Inside a modest warehouse unit deep within Tucker’s industrial corridor, there’s a hectic scene unfolding. Seven teenagers and a handful of very devoted adult mentors scramble around, some toting metal parts, others operating heavy machinery. It’s a controlled chaos as they work in concert toward a midnight deadline. The end result: a robot.
This is the Reboot First Robotics team, a group of homeschool students from across Metro Atlanta who gather nightly in Tucker to prepare for competition.
“We started in 2011 with three kids,” recalls team organizer Deneise Turner. “I was a single mom who wanted to start a robotics team.”
What began then as an extracurricular activity for Turner’s son and two friends has blossomed today into a well-oiled machine, preparing students to pursue engineering paths at top flight schools from Georgia Tech to the Air Force Academy.
One of those students is Joshua Ponder, a fresh-faced high school senior from Lawrenceville who has been a part of the robotics team for four years. He struggles to repress a smile as he talks about going to robotics competitions with his teammates.
“I love it, honestly,” Ponder says. “Some people say it isn’t a sport, but it is a sport. You’re competing to win.”
Turner agrees, saying when she attends these competitions “it’s like being a mom on a football team. Only robotics competitions are louder.”
The team has high hopes heading into district competitions this month in Duluth and Dalton, but if not for the Tucker connection, they may not be anywhere.
“Our kids were basically working out of a cold garage,” Turner recounts. “I started making calls to find
us a better place for the kids. I got in touch with a person who said ‘I know somebody named Emory Morsberger. You need to give him a call.’”
Morsberger is the long-serving head of the Stone Mountain Community Improvement District (CID) here in Tucker. After getting Turner’s call, he reached out to some of his member businesses and found that warehouse distribution firm Shaheen & Company had the space the robotics kids needed. For the past two years, they’ve enjoyed their own dedicated space in a climate-controlled warehouse where they can build their robots and prepare for battle.
On this night, Turner watches her charges make their last-minute adjustments and realizes she’s presiding over something special.
“It’s beyond exciting,” she says. “Their focus is awesome. They actually come here to focus and work. They don’t want to do anything other than this.”
And for the students? They want to win, but they enter into competition knowing they’ve already succeeded.
“Colleges and employers love this,” explains Ponder, who will study Aerospace Engineering at Middle Tennessee State University in the fall. “This is helping us to get engineering jobs. Technology is the way of the future.”
While they can see the big picture, the Reboot kids want to put that future on hold. At least until they – and their robot – can bring home some hardware.