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Robotics team bonds while working towards regional competition

Katie Bullock, Editor-in-chief

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Katie Bullock
Junior Andrer Willis works on a metal part of the bot at a Saturday build day on Jan. 20. “What’s nice about our team; if you don’t like building you can go to programming, and if that’s not your thing you can do business. ere’s a place for everybody,” Willis said.

It is noon on a Saturday, and the robotics team is laughing through barbeque smoke while grilling burgers at the school. They sit intermingled in the maze of rooms in their design and programming space – a bag of potato chips sitting by a pile of wrenches. A group of sophomores eat cheeseburgers and crack jokes while staring at a tangled mass of wires and steel. In the corner, three students play a board game they made to help them understand the competition they are working towards. This is the robotics team at work.

Each year on Jan. 6, the official robotics season kicks into gear when the annual theme of the FIRST Robotics Competition is revealed along. After that day, teams around the world have 62 days to build their bots.

“Right now we’re in the mock-up phase so we’re really just doing a lot of testing of our designs and seeing if they’re effcient or not,” captain of the build team, junior Brandon Burt said. “We’re breaking everything down into systems, pieces and then once they’re all done we’ll put it together and build ourselves a bot.”

This year, the FIRST competition is arcade themed and revolves around the teams’ abilities to pick up and transfer power cubes – which are boxes similar to milk-crates – to various locations. [View the *** Burt hopes that this year they will place within the top eight teams at the March 9 to March 14 regional competition hosted at the Metropolitan Community College Engineering Hall, which hosts over 60 teams from around the greater Kansas City area.

“We started out pretty decent as a rookie team, and each year if you look at the statistics from the competition we’ve improved,” Burt said. “We keep getting better and better and closer to the top eight. At one point last year we were the fourth seat in the entire competition. We basically fix our mistakes each year. Eventually, we’ll get to the top.”

Part of the teams’ growth has come from the growth of individual students on the team, according to industrial technology teacher Thomas Fish.

Katie Bullock
Junior Brandon Burt contemplates design options at a Saturday build day on Jan. 20. “I think we all just have a passion for engineering and design. It’s fun to start from nothing and to end up with something that you made from scratch,” Burt said about his love for robotics.

“Brandon came with computer skills, but a desire to learn. His freshman year you’d tell him ‘Go get a screwdriver,’ and he be like, ‘Umm… okay,’ but now he’s our build captain,” Fish said. “You put the tool in their hand and make them do it. You sit back and you watch them mess up. en, you watch them learn.”

Science teachers Brice Jensen and Jeff Janzen work with Fish to coach the team.

“It’s amazing to watch them,” Fish said. “The way I can tell that we’ve done our job back here is when we go to competition. Myself and the other mentors can sit back in the pit and just watch them work. The bot will break down or mess up and they will collaborate, focus, redesign, rebuild so that they’re back in the next round.”

There are five different teams that make up the robotics club: build team, business team, programming team, safety team and spirit team. Students can join any of the teams or be involved with multiple teams if they choose to do so.

“People view tech-y things like, ‘Oh it’s just for nerds,’ but no; there are people from almost every other club that have joined ro- botics,” junior Luke Milroy said. “We have someone who joined who’s an artist, and they designed the logo for this year, our shirts and hats. You can be or do anything. We’re really accepting overall.”

That acceptance has created a team of over a dozen students who spend nearly three hours every day together. But for Milroy, robotics is not just a team, it is a family.

“I was talking with Bob [robotic mem- ber’s father] about that this morning; some teams get really clique-y but we’re not really like that,” Milroy said. “It’s like a big family.”

Through the after school meetings and the weekend work sessions, for Fish, every person on the robotics team has their own place and their own part.

“Janzen is programming. Jensen is responsible for business and spirit. He’s the head-cook and bottle washer. Ben is a [student] dad, Bob is a [student] dad. Then there are the kids,” Fish said. “That’s kind of who we are and we just build.”

But between the bots and the burgers is, according to Burt, a group of people who share more than just a passion for building something new.

“You learn new things every single practice, you learn every trade you want to learn and more,” Burt said. “And you can build a lot of friendships on this team, not just robots.”

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