As dawn rose over the Clock Tower on Jan. 20, the Penn Charter Middle School Robotics Team loaded equipment into the bright yellow community service van for the short drive to Central High and the Philadelphia First Tech Challenge Tournament.

Eighth graders Emmett Garson, Will Betts Cope and seventh grader Matt Clarke spent the drive planning a strategy against some seasoned high school teams.

After passing mechanical, program, and field inspections and judge interviews, the team took on a tough draw in the round robin qualifying rounds and placed ninth. However, they then went on to compete in the finals with teammates, Girls High and Swenson Arts & Technology High School.

Corey Kilbane, PC science teacher and director of IdeaLabs, said the final match was so close that the teams and crowd sat hushed as they waited for the judges' final score. "While we lost 127-121," Kilbane said, "it was amazing to see our small group of middle schoolers compete against 24 high school teams, earning second place in the city tournament."