Four 11-year-old girls from St Mary’s Junior School, Cambridge beat several teams in the 14–18 age category to reach the quarter-finals of the RoboCupJunior European Robotics Championship, held in Hannover on June 21–23.
Their team of four Year 6 girls—Emily Brunt, Alexis Kennedy, Elena Sheehan and Sadie Pollock—were the only primary age group team representing the UK, and the only all-girls team.
The competition also turned into a test of the girls’ resilience as, when preparing to fly out to Germany and less than 24 hours before departure, the team were informed that they would unexpectedly have to compete in the Open Rescue Simulation League—a category for students aged 14–18. The league has different rules and is much more complex, but the 11-year-olds were determined to compete with the older teams on equal terms.
Organisers made the change because the St Mary’s team was the only primary age group team to enter out of 18 eligible countries across Europe.
After an intense programming session, the girls got to grips with the new requirements and won their first match against a team of 17-year-olds from Italy.
In quick succession, they then played against teams from Portugal and Croatia. Despite narrow defeats, their individual match scores more than doubled during the course of this round, with the results good enough to enable them to take part in a knockout match against another Italian team for a place in the quarters. They won a decisive victory against the team of four 17-year-old boys, last year’s European Open Rescue Simulation champions.
Despite a valiant effort and a new personal best match score of 980 points, the St Mary’s team lost to a very strong Russian team of 18-year-old boys, who went on to be crowned European Champions.
On June 23, the St Mary’s team were invited to compete in a ‘friendship tournament’, before watching the grand final and attending the awards ceremony.
Evidence of their acceptance into the exclusive European Rescue Simulation community came with an unexpected invitation to participate in a monthly ‘virtual’ tournament, which uses email and Skype to allow teams to compete against each other online.
Mr. Andrew Severy, computer science coordinator at St Mary’s, said: “I am incredibly proud of our team and their achievements over what have been three extremely intense and exciting days of competition. To become European Championship quarter-finalists in a league intended for very much older students, having had to cope with a last-minute change to a much more complicated set of rules and conditions, is a truly remarkable achievement.
“The girls have demonstrated incredible teamwork, commitment and maturity, and have never allowed themselves to be daunted or intimidated by the circumstances or the scale of the challenges facing them. They richly deserve their success and I am confident that they have a great future ahead of them in STEM and computer science, both at school and beyond”.