Magicians and stormtroopers: robotics teams from Washington County take part in international competitions

Members of PrestidigiTaters robotics team (among those at right of photo) compete in "Placing a Relic" event at world championships in Houston, Texas, April 2018 | Photo courtesy of PrestidigiTaters, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Two Washington County Utah State University Extension 4-H robotics club teams recently traveled out of state to participate in separate international competition events.


The PrestidigiTaters are a 4-H club of high school-age students from across Washington County who compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge, a robotics competition with thousands of teams worldwide. The acronym FIRST means “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.”

Members of PrestidigiTaters robotics team perform repairs on one of their devices during the FIRST world championships in Houston, Texas, April 2018 | Photo courtesy of PrestidigiTaters, St. George News

“We finished in the top 1.6 percent of 5,500 teams worldwide,” PrestidigiTaters team captain Bailee Allen said of the team’s performance at the FIRST Championship at Houston April 18-21. The international event attracted more than 15,000 students in four different program levels, with teams from 43 different countries.

“We were honored as a finalist for the Connect award, which is awarded to teams that give their all in paying it forward in their community and partnering with local industries to make STEM education more accessible to everyone,” Allen said. The term STEM refers to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Allen said the PrestidigiTaters, who just finished their third full year, collectively spent more than 500 hours in outreach efforts this season, including teaching at education conferences, hosting workshops for other robotics teams in Southern Utah and giving demonstrations for students of all ages around the county. 

“At the world championships, we were recognized for our efforts in expanding the FIRST community of Southern Utah and for the resources we have made available to help others succeed in STEM,” Allen said.

“The championship was a celebration of not just how far we’ve come as a team and the things we’ve learned, but of the STEM community we’ve helped foster in Southern Utah and the immense support that has gotten us this far.”

Allen said she and her six teammates thoroughly enjoyed their trip to Texas.

“We competed with new friends and old friends as we overcame language barriers, traded flags and simply embraced the opportunity to talk to people that were passionate about the same things we were,” Allen said.

“Since we are the PrestidigiTaters (prestidigitation meaning hand magic), we dressed as magicians at the event and performed magic tricks for attendees of all ages,” she added. “One of my favorite parts of the competition was interacting with the youth at the events and watching them get excited about STEM, magic and the atmosphere of the event in general. It’s really motivating.”

L-R: PrestidigiTaters team members Dallin Bundy, Bailee Allen, McCade Larsen and Kason Peacock present a handmade “Woody Flowers” art piece made by Allen to noted STEM educator and FIRST pioneer Woodie Flowers (center), Houston, Texas, April 2018 | Photo courtesy of PrestidigiTaters, St. George News

Another highlight, Allen said, was getting to personally meet noted engineering professor and STEM education pioneer Woodie Flowers, who first coined the term “gracious professionalism” as it relates to the ethos of FIRST. Allen and her teammates presented Flowers with a handmade piece of “Woody Flowers” artwork.

Allen, a student at Success Academy, was one of three seniors on this year’s team, joining programmer McCade Larsen of Dixie High and hardware specialist Kason Peacock of Desert Hills High. All three graduated from high school in May and will be attending Dixie State University this fall. Allen said they plan to continue to mentor the PrestidigiTaters and other FTC teams and programs within DSU’s STEM Pipeline Initiative.

“We all found our footing in STEM through DSU and Washington County 4-H’s summer camps and after-school programs,” she said. “We encourage anyone who is interested in STEM to look into them as well.

“I see immense changes in myself and my teammates after having competed together in the FIRST Tech Challenge. Our ability to program-solve, seize every opportunity for growth and work together as a team has increased through our involvement with the FIRST program, and we wouldn’t change it for the world.”

In addition to Allen, Larsen and Peacock, this year’s PrestidigiTaters team comprised four other members: sophomore Aubree Miller of Desert Hills High, freshman Hunter Phillips of Snow Canyon Middle, sophomore Dallin Bundy of Dixie High and junior Derek Sneddon of Desert Hills High.

Those involved with PrestidigiTaters say plans are in the works to start a second DSU FTC team this fall, open to students in eighth through 12th grades in the St. George area. Visit the PrestidigiTaters website for more information on how to get involved.

Nerf Herders

Washington County’s Nerf Herders competed at the North American FIRST Lego League (FLL) International Open Championship at Legoland in Carlsbad, California May 18-20. The FLL division is open to youth ages 9-14.

Nerf Herders, a Lego robotics team from Washington County, Utah, participated in the FIRST Lego League national competition at Carlsbad, Calif., May 18-20, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Nerf Herders, St. George News

“In the robot games, we placed 28th out of 79 teams,” Nerf Herders volunteer leader and coach Andrea Schmutz said, noting that the competition included teams from all over the United States and several foreign countries, including Japan, South Korea, Sweden and Canada.

Schmutz said the Nerf Herders were nominated for the competition’s prestigious “Gracious Professionalism” award.

“Even though they did not end up winning the award, I feel like it is a huge accomplishment for them to receive such a nomination among 79 of the best teams in the country,” Schmutz said.

Five team members made the trip to California: Gage Schmutz, Luke Iverson, Jordan Crosby, Austin Crosby and Joseph Tsai. A sixth team member, Max Torres, was unable to attend the tournament due to another commitment.

Schmutz said the boys proudly wore their custom-crocheted “storm trooper” hats throughout the competition.

“We made a bit of a splash with our Star Wars themed hats and people kept stopping us all over Legoland to ask where we bought our hats,” Schmutz said. “There were even several judges who sought us out and requested to take pictures with the Nerf Herders!”

Schmutz and PrestidigiTaters coach Brian Allen both expressed their gratitude for the community support given to the respective programs, and for the individuals and business who contributed financial help and materials.


  • For a full list of summer camps and 4-H programs available through USU Washington County Extension, click here.
  • For other summer camps, activities and programs offered through DSU and Southern Utah University, click here.
  • STEM Action Center Utah’s list of statewide summer camps and programs.

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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