Two Florida high-school teams won the world championships of robotics engineering at an international competition held April 25-28 in St. Louis, Mo. The competition is sponsored by For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), an organization founded by Segway inventor Dean Kamen.

A team comprised mostly of engineering students from Middleton High School in Tampa, Fla., won the division in which robots were required to collect balls, place them into crates and then elevate them as high as possible. The Hillsborough County engineering magnet school is a certified Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) academy.

The Tampa high school has seen a surge in the number of students applying to enroll in its magnet studies, the largest of which is engineering, says Kathy Freriks, who heads the magnet program. For the upcoming school year, Middleton received approximately 1,600 applications, nearly double the 900 of last year. Of that number, only about 350 will be accepted, she said.

Robotics has "definitely become a draw" for potential students, Freriks said. "STEM is a buzzword across the nation now, and we’re right in the thick of it."

The school’s team, Masquerade, was part of a three-team “alliance” that won the head-to-head competition, mostly by being the most consistent at lifting multiple crates and thereby winning big points, says Brian Neuman, a sophomore member of the team.

"We were not the highest lifter," he said. "The thing we had going for us was consistency. It’s amazing to see that this robot going only half as tall as the others was beating them. It was pretty astonishing."

The Masquerade team is comprised entirely of freshmen and sophomores, and all but two members were rookies. Therefore most, like Neuman, are only starting their engineering studies and haven’t decided on a major or applied to colleges yet.

Another Florida team comprised of students from two different Martin County high schools won a separate division, where robots were required to shoot basketballs into a series of hoops.

In these two FIRST divisions, 500 teams competed at the St. Louis championships, said Cheryl Walsh, a senior director with the New Hampshire-based organization. Overall, FIRST had more than 20,000 teams from 32 different countries competing at all levels this year.