The Denham Springs High School Grady Hornsby Gymnasium bustled with competition all day on an October Saturday, but not the kind it's accustomed to.

There were no sneakers squeaking or referee whistles blowing; rather, the hum of robots rumbling across the floor was mixed with the clamor of cheers and instructions being yelled out to drivers who were manipulating the robots.

In the 2020-21 competition, called Infinite Recharge, student drivers remotely controlled their bot, racing them across the floor to gather large yellow balls that they projected toward small portals at either end of the constructed field. The teams scored when their balls, or “power cells,” went through the small holes, or “power ports.” Then with 30 seconds remaining in the competition, drivers attempted to maneuver their bots to the center of the field to climb a “shield generator,” which was a metal rack, or park underneath it for extra points.

“These competitions allow the students to realize the practical application of their work. The students construct these robots, they program them for commands, and then they remotely operate their moves. All that they do is based on learned concepts,” said Denham Springs High School STEM instructor and Denham Venom coach Daniel Eiland.

Eiland said this year’s competition, which was hosted by Denham Springs High School, was the first in-person competition since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. It was the area’s first offseason For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics Competition and Festival. The FIRST activities were part of the eighth annual Dow Red Stick Rumble.

“Offering this opportunity to these team members is not just about competition but about continuing the hope that things are getting back to normal where one day soon we will all be competing together in official competitions,” Eiland said.

This year’s competition, he said, featured students from schools in Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma. Denham Springs High School placed two teams in the competition.

The winners of this year’s competition, part of an alliance of three robots, were Team Fusion from Gulfport High School in Gulfport, Mississippi; Team Prometheus from Mandeville High School in Mandeville; and Denham Venom No. 2 from Denham Springs High School. The Denham Venom No. 1 team was part of the second-ranked alliance, taking a runner-up spot in the competition and competing against its fellow classmates in the final match.