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4-H youth robotics team named new world champions

ctrl-z team poses after their win

HOUSTON, TX ­– Youth Robotics Team Ctrl-Z of Champaign County was named the world champions for the FIRST Robotics Challenge at the 2023 FIRST Championship held at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston April 19-22.

Six hundred teams convened at this international event that serves as the culmination of the youth robotics competition season. The FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) tasks teams of 10-30 in grades 7-12 to pick an area of specialty such as robot design, programming, business strategy, or team branding and challenges them to manage budgets of up to $50,000.

In the FRC, three teams in an alliance compete against three other teams to score as many points as possible in two minutes and thirty seconds. Teams compete over one and a half days against 40-50 other teams in 10-15 matches with randomly selected alliance pairings. After this initial qualification round, the top eight teams form their own alliance of three teams and then compete in an elimination bracket to determine an event champion. 

The event represents the culmination of the season, with prep beginning on the first Saturday of January as a new game is released, kicking off the season. Teams have approximately 8-10 weeks to build a robot to accomplish tasks in the game. The build season consists of the time between kickoff and the end of the last competition.

“On the day the game is announced, the team starts discussing possible strategies and mechanisms that would be needed to complete the team’s desired goals,” says coach Bob Smith of Champaign County. “Ctrl-Z’s focus this season was to design a robot that could complete a reasonable number of tasks quickly and consistently to maximize points and position the team to be selected by a top alliance. Team members devote upwards of 20 hours a week during competition season.” 

The team then spent the next couple of weeks testing wooden prototypes of mechanisms while simultaneously using Computer Aided Design (CAD) to start designing the robot. Creating the robot involves both 3-D printing and manually fabricating parts using band saws and drill presses. The team then codes, wires, and assembles the components to build the final competition robot.

Despite winning the top title, the team is busy planning for the next year.

“Building on the FIRST Impact award, the team plans to continue to work to start new robotics clubs in the area,” says Smith. “The team also plans on getting more volunteers in leadership roles and fundraising over the next nine months.”

Caterpillar, Bayer, and the Illinois 4-H Foundation provided financial support for this year’s competition.

Three other teams also represented Illinois 4-H at the international competition.

Metal Cow Robotics of McLean County and Binary Bullets of Knox County also qualified to compete at the international competition in the FIRST Robotics Challenge.

The Super Scream Bros of Macon County competed in the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC). The FTC tasks teams of up to 15 youth in grades 7-12 to compete in a head-to-head challenge using robots they design, build, program, and operate.

In both challenges, teams not only design and build the robots, but they raise funds, create a brand and marketing plan, and do community outreach.

To learn more about 4-H Robotics programming in your area, contact your local Extension Office.

About Illinois 4-H: Illinois 4-H is the flagship youth development program of University of Illinois Extension and administered through the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences. 4-H grows true leaders, youth who are empowered for life today and prepared for a career tomorrow. The hands-on approach in 4-H gives young people guidance, tools, and encouragement, and then puts them in the driver’s seat to make great things happen. Independent research confirms the unparalleled impact of the 4-H experience, demonstrating that young people are four times more likely to contribute to their communities; two times more likely to make healthier choices; two times more likely to be civically active; and two times more likely to participate in STEM programs. 

For Further Information Contact:

Specialist: Keith Jacobs, U of I Extension 4-H Youth Development Specialist, STEM

(217) 300-0496

Writer: Carissa Nelson, Media Communications Manager,


About Extension

Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities. Illinois Extension is part of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences.