In a room tucked in the back of Aiken High School’s campus is a practice field unlike others on the property. This one’s full of colored blocks and towers and offers a chance for members of the M’Aiken Magic Robotics Team to finely tune their robot for the VEX Robotics league.

The M’Aiken Magic Robotics Team offers students the chance to work with professionals and get hands-on experience in STEM fields, and their small bot team has had a successful competition season so far.

“We have two different leagues of teams,” said John Fogarty, the team’s head coach.

“We have the junior varsity league consisting of mostly freshman and sophomore students, and then the varsity league which does not start at the beginning of the school year, it starts in January. So what we’ve competed with up to this point has been the VEX league, the junior varsity league.”

That group has attended one competition, which took place the first weekend in January in Chapin.

The team played well during the tournament-style event, and was part of the No. 1 seeded alliance with Dutch Fork High School going into the playoffs, where they went undefeated.

“Our overall record at the end now is eight wins and one loss,” Fogarty said.

Twenty-two students are part of M’Aiken Magic. The team consists of students from Aiken and South Aiken high schools, Schofield and Leavelle McCampbell middle schools, and a few homeschool students.

Gaby Riggins is a junior at South Aiken High School, who joined the team for the first time this year, and was one of the drivers of the robot during the competition.

Riggins said she enjoys building the robot, and that being on the team has given her a lot more knowledge about how things work and how to build things.

Regarding driving the robot, she said practice is needed to learn the controls. Once those are mastered, driving is pretty easy.

When asked about the atmosphere at the competition, Riggins described it as “pretty chill” compared to other sports she’s been part of.

“And also it’s no running, so I’m pretty happy,” she joked.

Fogarty said this is the first year the VEX league team has had mostly younger students on the team.

“Last year we competed in that league and we still allowed our older students to compete and we still won mostly with an older student team, however it’s more impressive this year because the robot that won the tournament this year was consisting of students who probably have never built a robot before,” Fogarty said.

“So a lot of these kids it’s the first time ever building something, programming something, driving something like this ever. So if this was their first year on the team, they were on the VEX team and they still managed to win a tournament on their first try ever.”

The next VEX competition is on Jan. 25. 

The varsity league of the team is FIRST Robotics Competition, or FRC, league.

The kickoff of this year’s game was held earlier this month, where the team learned about the specifics of the game. This year the game is called Infinite Recharge and has a Star Wars theme.

“The game consists of a ball shooting challenge, a robot climbing challenge and a pattern matching disk that we have to rotate. It’s a lot of different stuff to tackle,” Fogarty said.

Fogarty said the team has until the second weekend in March to build the robot ahead of its first competition. 

Thom Carr is a senior at Aiken High School, and this year is his fifth year on the team.

“I started out just wanting to learn a lot of tooling and how to build stuff, and now I am more focused on the strategy: looking at how to play things, how to design stuff better, and I honestly enjoy it and with the career path I want to do, it makes sense for me to keep coming back,” Carr said.

He’s currently interested in aerospace engineering and design, and said that whether he stays in-state or not for college, he plans to help mentor a robotics team.

“It’s honestly very exciting,” he said.

“You get to intermingle with people you typically wouldn’t talk to. It’s very much a good learning experience, no matter what you want to do because you get the good social skills as well as the engineering and mechanical skills.”

Lindsey Hodges is a general assignment reporter at the Aiken Standard and North Augusta Star. Follow her on Twitter at @LindseyNHodges.