The gym is packed. The buzzer sounds. The players jockey for position, moving balls and scoring. The crowd cheers. Is it basketball? Volleyball? Hockey? No, it’s the Oak Park Education Foundation’s Battle of the Bots – and the players are robots, controlled by their middle school creators!

On Saturday February 1, in the Julian Middle School gym, 36 middle school teams will compete in OPEF’s Battle of the Bots. For the first time, this official tournament will qualify middle school teams to advance to both the State and National Championships, with teams competing from Oak Park District 97’s Julian and Brooks Middle Schools, St. Giles, as well as from Berwyn, Elmwood Park, Chicago, Elmhurst, Morton Grove and Wisconsin.

OPEF’s VEX Robotics program has grown dramatically in its nine-year history, now including 95 middle school students working with volunteer engineers, high school mentors and teachers to design, build, program and compete with robots. For the past two years, two of OPEF’s VEX teams have advanced to the National Championship, and last year one team made it to the World Championship!

Battle of the Bots, an all-day event beginning at 9:30 am, is free and open to the public. In addition to the 150 Robotics competitors, their coaches and supporters, there will be a jumbo projection screen featuring live video and scoring information, an emcee and DJ as well as refreshments for sale. Trophies are given for the teams scoring the most points. Judging will be based on Innovation, Design and a “Think” Award.

OPEF’s Battle of the Bots is presented by Cummins, Inc.