Rockline Industries vice president Nick Santoleri announced a matching $5,000 award to Booneville High School to start a FIRST robotics team during the annual Booneville Development Corporation/South Logan County Chamber of Commerce banquet Saturday night.

Shortly after the banquet, according to superintendent of Booneville Schools John Parrish, First Western Bank pledged the $5,000 which makes the seed money from Rockline a certainty.

Rockline had announced the contribution in memory of Jeral Hampton, who passed away earlier this month at the age of 92 and Santoleri said the idea of a robotics team was the last one he had worked on with Hampton.

FIRST has a mission statement of "to transform our culture to a world where science and technology are celebrated, and where young people dream of being science and technology leaders."

One of the two major themes of the 70th annual banquet, a crowd of over 160 was treated to a demonstration by First robotics rookie team Apophis Team 5006 from Prairie Grove.

Their robot made moves, tossed a ball and retrieved one it had let loose as students operated it wirelessly through computers and devices that resembled video game joy sticks.

The maneuvers were similar to one the team’s entry will be required to make for a FIRST competition which will both pit the team against and with other FIRST teams in an alliance, scoring additional points for assisting each other.

In addition to the seed money Rockline also pledged use of one of its engineers to serve as the team’s mentor and space in the warehouse of its facility in Booneville.

Rudy Timmerman, the mentor for the Prairie Grove team also spoke at the banquet. Timmerman said a FIRST team should be viewed as "a sport for the mind."

Timmerman said having a FIRST team provides team members with a multitude of hands-on training including an introduction to computer created 3D modeling.

Students also learn electrical design through electricity principals, programming principals in C++, Java and Labview – the standards in use today Timmerman said – as well as marketing to include sales and accounting.

Students also do outreach activities such as mentoring other teams, starting new teams, working in the community, doing custom designs for businesses and research, Timmerman said.

In return for their commitments, Rockline will expect to see the community pull together to support other emotional and physical support; that the team compete in 2015 and that the "children learn something and have some fun."

The assistance to a Booneville FIRST team will be the second for Rockline as the company has provided engineering, warehouse space and other support to the Springdale Gear Hogs FIRST Team 3612.

Santoleri said the company got involved with FIRST after helping with a competition and having his best robotics employee "proclaim they feel inadequate" by the accomplishments of high school students involved on the teams.