‘Robot coming through’
High school students focus on teamwork for event
Anthony Camp wormed through the crowded pit area to make room for what was behind him.
"Robot coming through," the junior from Bonner Springs High School shouted.
That sound echoed Saturday throughout the pit area at the FIRST Robotics Competition Greater Kansas City Regional at Hale Arena in Kansas City, Mo. Schools from four states competed in regional playoff, with winners from here advancing to national finals in Atlanta.
FIRST is an acronym for "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology." The not-for-profit organization was created in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen to help youths build knowledge, self-confidence and life skills while pursuing opportunities in science and in math.
Fifty-six high school teams buzzed through the pit at Hale, guiding their robots to and from their matches. At the team bases, members tinkered with parts and adjusted their robots to perform better in the next round.
The teams had six weeks to develop robots that could travel around a track and pull down large balls from an overpass above the track. Judges awarded points for rounding laps, pulling down the balls, pushing the balls around the track, tossing the balls over the overpass and placing the balls back up on the overpass before the end of the round.
While each team developed its own robot, the teams competed as an alliance with two other teams, making the competition three-on-three.
Strategy came into play when developing their robot, Bonner team captain Lindsey Johnson said.
"We made a robot that could get around the track quickly," Lindsey said.
However, strategizing didn't always work.
"We're not doing as good as we probably could have been," said Charles Frager, sophomore at Lawrence High School. "We literally had to cut off the entire front of the robot and redesign it."
Lawrence senior Yoshika Crider said the team wasn't prepared to have to adjust its robot because it was oversized, but admitted it was a learning experience.
"The brainstorming and problem-solving aspects are all used in engineering," she said.
"Stuff comes up and you have to think on your feet and you have to problem solve quickly."
Students also learn life lessons, said Mary Beth Mattingly, sponsor of the Mill Valley High School team from Shawnee.
"You are not alone out there trying to score points," she said. "You have to work with two other teams, and life requires cooperation."
Lindsey said teamwork also is important for advancing to finals.
"When an alliance wins, people in the audience start to open their eyes," she said. "It shows we do have some skills."
The pressure was on Friday and Saturday morning because a good performance during a match meant higher rankings and the chance of getting noticed by better teams.
The top eight teams at the end of regular competition were able to select the teams they wanted on their alliance, during finals.
"We're hoping if we win our next couple of matches, we might have a chance to make it to the finals," said Jerry Hodina, senior from Shawnee Mission North High School in Overland Park.
Mill Valley went to nationals in 2006, its first year competing, because a higher-ranked team asked them to join their alliance during the finals at the regional competition.
When alliances for finals were selected Saturday, none of the area teams - Lawrence, Mill Valley, North, Bonner Springs or Lawrence - were selected.
"We had a lot of unanticipated electrical failures that really held us back," Mill Valley junior Ted Hilk said. "A lot of our issues can be attributed to the fact of parts not being in on time."
Although not part of the finals this year, Ted already was looking ahead to next year's competition and focusing on areas that need improvement.
"Everything we felt we could improve on last year, we made an effort to improve this year," he said. "We are overall far more functional than we were our first year."