Robots set for action on Jan. 20 at Penn State York

First Tech Challenge robotics competition features 28 teams of middle and high school students
Students competing in a robotics competition

Middle and high school students from across the state will compete in the First Tech Challenge (FTC) Nittany Lion Qualifier on Saturday, Jan. 20 at Penn State York in the Joe and Rosie Ruhl Student Community Center. The public is invited to attend the matches which begin at 11 a.m.

Credit: Barbara Dennis

YORK, Pa. — The First Tech Challenge (FTC) Nittany Lion Qualifier is set for Saturday, Jan. 20 at Penn State York. Robots will be ready to go for the South-Central Pennsylvania Qualifier and the game — CENTERSTAGE presented by RTX. The competition is free and open to the public.

Teams will begin arriving at 7 a.m. each day, with the opening ceremonies set for 11 a.m. in the gym of the Joe and Rosie Ruhl Student Community Center at Penn State York. Matches conclude about 5:30 p.m.

The competition includes 28 teams from across Pennsylvania vying for the opportunity to compete in the state competition.

Prior to the ceremony, teams will have an opportunity to get organized, register their robots, and prepare for competition. These events are made possible on campus thanks to a grant from the Pullo Family Fund.

Teams are also competing for judged awards for their robot design, programming, and team outreach. Many volunteers from the local community participate in judging and helping to make the event run smoothly for the more than 500 students and their families coming to York to compete.

In addition to the game, teams also present their robot designs, engineering notebooks and summary of their outreach efforts off the field, to compete for judged awards. Professionals from the local community volunteer as judges and other event positions to support the tournament. This is one of numerous tournaments held throughout the state during the season to qualify the top teams to advance to the state championship. 

Marshall F. Coyle, associate professor of engineering at Penn State York, is the volunteer coordinator for the event, and along with engineering faculty at Penn State York, take responsibility for filling the many positions necessary to make the competition possible. It was Coyle’s idea to bring the competition to campus more than 10 years ago. Penn State York students, faculty, staff and business members from the York community work as volunteers during the competition filling a variety of roles from judges to field tech advisers, scorekeepers, software inspectors and more.

Lunch will be available for purchase in Rosie’s Café in the Ruhl Center (cards only, no cash accepted).

The acronym "FIRST" means "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology," and the organization was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, an accomplished inventor who wanted to inspire young people to appreciate science and technology. The FIRST Tech Challenge program is one of the four levels of FIRST, a worldwide robotics competition that engages students each year. The FIRST Tech Challenge is open to students in grades 7-12.

Guided by adult coaches and mentors, students develop science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills and practice engineering principles, while realizing the value of hard work, innovation and sharing ideas. Participants have access to tens of millions of dollars in college scholarships.

Teams are judged on their sportsmanship, performance of their robots, completion of tasks, ability to follow rules and a variety of other criteria. Following a sports model, teams of middle and high school-aged students are challenged to design, build and program a robot to play a floor game against other teams’ creations.

For information about FIRST, visit their website at

About the game

This year, students will compete using their STEM skills in a one-of-a-kind art-inspired robotics season. CENTERSTAGE is part of the 2023-24 FIRST IN SHOWS season presented by Qualcomm, which will shine the spotlight on the roles STEM skills play in the arts and design to build a world of endless possibilities.

Inspired by performances that entertain and move people, CENTERSTAGE will highlight how STEM skills empower students to bring ideas to life. Teams will collaborate and innovate as they design, build, program, and operate robots to set the stage in a thrilling head-to-head challenge. The CENTERSTAGE season theme focuses on how competitors skills make it possible to create art and experiences that bring everyone together, entertain and move us.

As the presenting sponsor for the CENTERSTAGE season, RTX directly supports FIRST events, programs, and thousands of teams globally, through funding and time donated by hundreds of employees. RTX is doing its part to bring innovation, collaboration, and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education to students all over the world. For more details on the game, visit the website.

FIRST Tech Challenge is a widely accessible robotics program for grades 7 through 12 in which teams design, build, code and operate sophisticated robots to play a themed floor game in an alliance format. Guided by adult coaches and mentors, students develop STEM skills and practice engineering principles, while realizing the value of hard work, innovation, and working as a team.

In addition to gameplay, designing and building robots, FIRST Tech Challenge participants raise funds, design and market their team brand, and do community outreach to earn specific awards during the competition season.


  • 7 a.m. — Volunteers Arrive and Check-in
  • 7:45 a.m. — Teams Arrive and Check-in; Robot and Field Inspection Begins
  • 8:20 a.m. — Judge Interviews Begin
  • 10:30 a.m. — Drivers Meeting on Competition Field
  • 10:45 a.m. — Que First Two Matches
  • 11 a.m. — Opening Ceremonies
  • 11:15 a.m. — Qualification Matches Begin
  • 12:30 p.m. — Lunch
  • 1 p.m. — Qualification Matches Resume
  • 3:45 p.m. — Qualifications Matches End
  • 4 p.m. — Alliance Selection
  • 4:15 p.m. — Semifinals Begin
  • 5:15 p.m. — Finals Begin
  • 6 p.m. — Awards and Closing Ceremonies
  • 6:30 p.m. — Event Complete