“Robotics offers an opportunity for students who excel in a kind of thinking that is both problem-solving and collaborative,” Innovative Coordinator for Ohio County Schools JoJo Shay states. As of 2024, Ohio County Schools boast 19 robotics teams. Six teams represent Wheeling Park High School and 13 teams represent the various middle schools of Ohio County. The program initially began at the high school in 2019, and now in its third year, OCS Robotics continues to expand and grow all while gaining traction in the Wheeling community.
Last year, Ohio County Schools made a bid for to host a “Signature Event” sanctioned through the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation. These events are rare, with only 25 taking place worldwide. “We made the bid so students who don’t make it to World’s can experience Robotics on a grander scale. We currently have 15 states represented as well as Canada,” Shay states. This is the only Signature Event taking place in the state of West Virginia.
65 middle school teams will arrive at The Highlands Sports Complex on January 31 and February 1; 74 high school teams will take the arena on February 2 and 3. The days can be long, “These are eight-hour days with rigorous expectations,” states Shay, “but watching students’ abilities grow and expand as well as seeing them make friendships and partnerships is the best part.”
In just a few years, OCS Robotics has earned multiple state titles and two trips to World’s in Dallas, Texas. Dallas, in part, was the inspiration for naming the Signature Event, “Gateway to the West.” “It represents our city of Wheeling, but also the chance to head to Dallas,” states Shay, explaining that the winner(s) of the tournament will gain entry to the Robotics World Championship.
The City of Wheeling continues to embrace Robotics. In addition to having support from many local sponsors, Visit Wheeling has worked closely with OCS Robotics to create a Wheeling guide with local eateries and restaurants for visitors in town for the event to check out while they are in town. “We’re very grateful for the County Commission, Visit Wheeling, and the mayor for the interest they’ve shown our program,” states Shay. “We’re excited to bring the next level of competition to our WV region!”
The Signature Event: Gateway to the West competition takes place at The Highlands Sports Complex from Jan. 31 – Feb. 3 from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Admission is free. Checking out OCS Robotics is a great way to encourage STEM in our community. For more information on the program and the competition, follow Ohio County Robotics on Facebook or visit the OCS Robotics page on Ohio County Schools’ website.
•Karin Butyn was born and raised in Wheeling, WV. A graduate of Wheeling Central, West Liberty University, and Wheeling Jesuit University, Karin spent nearly a decade teaching both English as Second Language and Reading Language Arts. She currently serves as the director of marketing and public relations at Ohio County Schools. In her free time, she enjoys running and music. She and her husband, TJ, are raising their young sons, Finn and Watson, in Warwood.