Montgomery BEST is located in the capital city of Montgomery, Alabama. This thriving metropolis is located in the heart of Alabama and served as the backdrop to many of the nation’s most significant civil rights movements. Over the last 20 years, Montgomery BEST moved locations several times as it bounced among different universities who sponsored the program. Montgomery BEST began as Alabama BEST over 20 years ago, and it was hosted by Auburn University.
It later moved to Montgomery where Huntingdon College took it over, but the name remained Alabama BEST. In 2006, it moved back to Auburn University, and a few years later the name changed to War Eagle BEST, after the Auburn football team’s battle cry. In 2018, War Eagle BEST was going to be shut down. But Lee Sumner, along with his daughter and the assistance of Alabama State University, decided to take over as host and prevent this tragedy. It moved back to Montgomery, the name changed to Montgomery BEST, and the first competition under Alabama State University was in 2019.
Montgomery BEST is a testament of resilience as it adapted and changed over the years. In the process, Montgomery BEST has run things a little different than other hubs around the country. Most recently, Montgomery BEST was the only hub in the nation who held an In-Person BEST Robotics competition during the COVID-19 outbreak of 2020. That year, nine teams began the season and seven teams actually competed in the Hub tournament at the end of the season. After the hub returned back to Montgomery, the greatest difficulties came from raising money for kits and supplies and getting enough people to understand what BEST Robotics is all about so they could recruit volunteers. Sponsorships come from the Missile Defense Agency in Huntsville, Alabama State University, the City of Montgomery, the County of Montgomery, and several local businesses in the area. Many of the judges are virtual nowadays. They try to get about 50 judges to help. And, an additional 50 volunteers are needed to run the in-person events, like kick-off and competition day. They seek volunteers from Alabama State University, neighboring hubs, and former participants.
Montgomery BEST is also proud of the way in which they host their practice day. Two weeks before competition, they create quite the spectacle when they have “Mall Day”. Teams convene at the local mall to practice on the competition field. Mr. Sumner, hub committee member, says they “do it out in public so the town can see and help get the word out.”
At competition, they bring in a DJ, have fun activities, and make a huge public event out of it. 25 teams took part in the 2019 competition when Alabama State University first took over. Due to the pandemic, only 7 teams finished the season in 2020 when they competed in-person. The numbers went back up in 2021 with 17 teams competing in last year’s event. Since the host university changed so much, the hub went through many different hub directors. Each time it was hosted by Auburn University, the hub director was Mary Lou Ewald. At Huntingdon college, Dr. Sid Stubbs was the hub director. In 2019 and 2020, Dr. Dean was the hub director, and in 2021, Dr. Jones was the hub director. Since Auburn University has so much experience with hosting a hub, they still help a lot with Montgomery BEST, and they host the South’s BEST regional championship for the area.
Even though the Montgomery hub had faced many challenges with the lack of funding and students, they still pushed through the 2020 season. One of Mr. Sumner’s most memorable moments is just being there with the kids, watching them grow, develop, succeed, and fail. Many of his students went on to start their own companies and create amazing inventions. With BEST Robotics, Mr. Sumner was able to provide students with the opportunity and the students continually surprise him with their ingenuity.
Hub Spotlight submitted by:
Hutto High School (Hutto, TX) – Gary Choice, Andrew Riggan, Ryan Postlewait, Steve Wiley