2017-02-09 / Front Page

A Season for Invention and Fun

High School Robotics Programs Are Now Underway, With a Focus on Learning And Cooperation
By Kevin R. Hess


Members of the robotics team at LaSalle High School, Sarah Doran (clockwise, from left), Andrea Kinjorski, Joel Dodds, and Casey Brake work on the base of their robot. The St. Ignace SHIELD has 18 members this year. Other team members include: Delayne Bassett, Lily Colegrove, Logan DeKeyser, Connor Fitzgerald, Alicia Garen, Tori Geldner, Anna Hart, Lily Hart, Robert Matelski, Briana McGill, Eden Sanborn, Karlie St. Andrew, Morgan Thomas, and Luke Valletta. Members of the robotics team at LaSalle High School, Sarah Doran (clockwise, from left), Andrea Kinjorski, Joel Dodds, and Casey Brake work on the base of their robot. The St. Ignace SHIELD has 18 members this year. Other team members include: Delayne Bassett, Lily Colegrove, Logan DeKeyser, Connor Fitzgerald, Alicia Garen, Tori Geldner, Anna Hart, Lily Hart, Robert Matelski, Briana McGill, Eden Sanborn, Karlie St. Andrew, Morgan Thomas, and Luke Valletta. Local High School Robotics Teams Prepare for This Year’s Competition

High school robotics competition has begun.

Saturday, January 7, was the official kickoff to the 2017 season of FIRST Robotics. Approximately 85,000 students on 3,400 teams in 25 countries participate.

In the United States, Michigan has the most high school teams, with 454, followed by California, with 279. Ten teams from the Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District (EUPISD) compete in robotics. St. Ignace, Cedarville, and Mackinac Island represent Mackinac County. Brimley, De- Tour, Ojibwe Charter School, Pickford, Rudyard, Sault Ste. Marie, and Paradise represent Chippewa County.


Cedarville’s Robotics Team, the Yooper Troopers, enters its fourth year of competition. Pictured here are (back, from left): Jonah Gough, Assistant Coach Mitchel Mast, Jacob Oblander; (middle) Coach Hank McClure, John Horn, Evan Rye, Mason Sayles, Luke Snyder, Grace Snyder; (front) Morgan McLeod, Jillian Socia, Carolina Cabello, Leah Spiker, and Noah Elkins. Not pictured: Wyatt Landreville and Silas Dunn. Cedarville’s Robotics Team, the Yooper Troopers, enters its fourth year of competition. Pictured here are (back, from left): Jonah Gough, Assistant Coach Mitchel Mast, Jacob Oblander; (middle) Coach Hank McClure, John Horn, Evan Rye, Mason Sayles, Luke Snyder, Grace Snyder; (front) Morgan McLeod, Jillian Socia, Carolina Cabello, Leah Spiker, and Noah Elkins. Not pictured: Wyatt Landreville and Silas Dunn. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics pairs high school students with adult mentors, primarily engineers and teachers, to design and build robots that compete in a high-energy environment.

Every participating team competes in the same game. At the kickoff, teams are shown the game field and challenge details for the first time, and then receive a kit of parts made up of motors, batteries, control system components, construction materials, and a mix of other parts. They are given limited instructions, and then work with each other and adult mentors for six weeks, building, designing, programing, and testing their robots to meet the season’s engineering challenge. After six weeks, teams must “bag” their robots, and are not allowed to make any changes until competition. Teams then compete in one or more district and regional events to test the effectiveness of their robots. Competition begins in February and continues through April. Teams that qualify then compete at the state and world finals. Approximately 800 teams will qualify for the world FIRST championship.


DeTour’s Raider Robotics Team is in its fourth year of competition. Team members include (back row, from left) mentor Todd McCloud, Cameron Livingston, coach Gary Dudeck, Moriah Reed, Angus Martin, Jordan Bailey, Max Winkel; (middle) Kelly Vaught, Jessie Sako, Grace Krzycki, Aaron Kryzcki, Leo Dudeck, coach Angela Reed; (front) Skylar Pardee and Scott Bosley. Absent from photograph is Jordan Hartley. (Photograph courtesy of Angela Reed.) DeTour’s Raider Robotics Team is in its fourth year of competition. Team members include (back row, from left) mentor Todd McCloud, Cameron Livingston, coach Gary Dudeck, Moriah Reed, Angus Martin, Jordan Bailey, Max Winkel; (middle) Kelly Vaught, Jessie Sako, Grace Krzycki, Aaron Kryzcki, Leo Dudeck, coach Angela Reed; (front) Skylar Pardee and Scott Bosley. Absent from photograph is Jordan Hartley. (Photograph courtesy of Angela Reed.) This year’s game is called FIRST Steamworks. The challenge involves building robots that deliver fuel to a boiler, install gears to engage rotors, and then climb aboard an “airship” located within the playing field. The airship best prepared for flight when the launch timer reaches zero will win.


The Great Lakers, Mackinac Island High School’s Robotics Team, kicked off their second year of competition Saturday, January 7. Team members are (back row, from left): Gabe Kromer, Aaron Riggs, Christopher Riggs, Nick Davis, Christian Styburski, and Talon Greenlee; (front): Alex Henlin and Grace Yakuber. Not pictured, Hannah Styburski. The Great Lakers, Mackinac Island High School’s Robotics Team, kicked off their second year of competition Saturday, January 7. Team members are (back row, from left): Gabe Kromer, Aaron Riggs, Christopher Riggs, Nick Davis, Christian Styburski, and Talon Greenlee; (front): Alex Henlin and Grace Yakuber. Not pictured, Hannah Styburski. Each team is part of a three or four team alliance and competes against other alliances. The key is finding what each team’s robot does best and working together to accomplish the necessary tasks.


Pickford Students (from left) Benjamin Satchell, Elaina Rader, and Anthony Streichert, work with mentor Erin Satchell (second from left, with hat) on this year’s Steamworks robot. (Photograph courtesy of Anne Stander) Pickford Students (from left) Benjamin Satchell, Elaina Rader, and Anthony Streichert, work with mentor Erin Satchell (second from left, with hat) on this year’s Steamworks robot. (Photograph courtesy of Anne Stander) Each competition is 2.5 minutes long and divided into two periods. The first 15 seconds of the match are called the AUTO period. During this time, robots are pre-programmed and operate autonomously, without team control. During the final two minutes and 15 seconds, called the TELEOP period, student drivers operate the robots remotely. Teams earn points by delivering the fuel (plastic balls) to the boilers, and gears to the airship. The more balls they are able to get into the boilers, the more pressure is built and the more points are earned. The airships have four rotors with gears missing. Each rotor requires an increasing number of gears to operate. The robots must deliver the gears to the airship “pilots,” who will then install them to engage and spin the rotors. Points are awarded for each rotor that is turning by the end of the match. Airships spinning all four rotors will earn bonus points.

Toward the end of the match, the airship pilots will deploy ropes for their robots to climb aboard. Alliances earn points for each robot secured aboard the airship at the end of the match. The alliance with the highest score in the end wins the match.

During competition, each team is given a pit area where their robots will be inspected before the match, and where they can make adjustments between matches. A typical competition takes place from Thursday to Saturday. Friday, teams compete all day long, in eight matches, with four more following on Saturday. Teams are then ranked based on the number of points earned throughout the matches.

Besides students and coaches, each team also has several adult mentors who have expertise in areas such as engineering, mathematics, and coding. The mentors come alongside the students and teach them these skills. The mentors are a vital part of each team.

St. Ignace’s team, the St. Ignace SHIELD (Saints Heroes In Engineering, LaSalle Division), is in their fourth year of competition. Coach Merlin Doran has coached the team for the past three seasons. The team did not qualify for the playoffs last year, but they did win an award for the best robot design.

Some of the schools have STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) curriculum and programs, which allows them to have class time each day where the students can work on the projects. Others, such as St. Ignace, DeTour, Pickford, and Rudyard, do not have STEM programs, which present some unique challenges for the teams. Several of the St. Ignace students are involved in other extracurricular activities, such as basketball, band, and drama club. With semester exams, basketball, and the drama club’s production of “Alice in Wonderland” overlapping the kickoff of robotics season, it has been hard for Mr. Doran to get all of the team together.

“I could force them to be here and mandate a certain number of hours, but I really want them to enjoy robotics, and I don’t want to discourage them from participating in other school activities,” he said.

The team started the season with 30 interested students, but that number has decreased to 18. Two of the six weeks allotted have already passed, and the team is working hard to build their robot.

Despite the challenges, Mr. Doran enjoys robotics and watching the students learn concepts they may not necessarily learn in their normal classes.

“Robotics exposes them to hands-on engineering, and to the importance of teamwork in a realworld situation,” he said.

One of the other challenges is the lack of an engineering industry and access to hi-tech resources in St. Ignace, says Mr. Doran.

“We like to say we (coaches and mentors) are a bunch of tinkerers. We learn a lot through trial and error,” he said.

Sarah Doran, a sophomore with the team, enjoys the tinkering.

“I like building things,” she said. “It’s really cool watching it come together. I learn a lot along the way.”

Mr. Doran says several students have gone on to college to study in engineering fields, in part owing to their exposure to robotics. He hopes as the program continues more students and adults can be exposed to the importance of robotics and get more people involved.

Cedarville’s team, The Yooper Troopers, has competed since 2014 and is coached by teachers Hank McClure and Mitchel Mast. Mr. McClure teaches high school mathematics and has been involved from the beginning of Cedarville’s program. Mr. Mast teaches middle school and high school science. He just joined Cedarville’s faculty, but was part of Pickford’s program before coming to Cedarville.

In their first year, the Yooper Troopers earned the Rookie All Star award and were the Traverse City District champs. In 2015, they were Traverse City District runners-up, coming up just short of qualifying for the state finals. This year, 14 students are participating.

Evan Rye, a senior on this year’s team, enjoys robotics because it is a unique school experience.

“It’s more like having an actual job than going to school,” he said. “You have to learn to work well together to create your robot.”

Senior Leah Spiker is in charge of accounting and marketing for the team. She sends out sponsor letters and works to keep the team on its budget. She didn’t know what to expect her first year, but she is glad she got involved.

“My favorite part of robotics is just watching the building process,” she said. “It’s fun to see it come together.”

Mackinac Island’s team, The Great Lakers, competed for the first time in 2016. They won multiple rookie awards, qualified for state finals, and qualified for the world championship in St. Louis. They finished 32nd out of 103 teams in Michigan, and 17th out of 75 teams in their division at the world championship. The team is coached by Greg Neville and Susan Bennett. Mr. Neville teaches social studies, and Mrs. Bennett teaches mathematics.

All student skill levels are welcomed and needed, and technical experience isn’t necessary. Some students join because it sounds fun, while others join because they are interested in science or engineering.

“I joined robotics because I’m a sci-fi nerd,” said Talon Greenlee, a senior on Mackinac Island’s team.

“I think it’s one of the most fun things to do,” said sophomore Alex Henlin.

Mrs. Bennett says the mentors are a vital part of the success of their team.

“As coaches, we guide and teach, but we don’t do. The students are given the responsibility of doing the work. The mentors provide great training in all of these different areas,” she said.

Pickford’s team, the Robo Panthers, has also competed in FIRST Robotics since 2014. Two of the three years in which they’ve competed, they made it to the quarterfinal round of regional competition. In 2015, they were part of the winning alliance at the 2015 Petoskey off-season event. They are hoping to advance further this year. The team is coached by Eric Kleymeer, who teaches high school science and computer applications. They have eight students and four mentors. The team meets after school and on weekends to work on their robot. Anne Stander is a mentor who helps with organization and communication. She says that the Robo Panthers’ robot is up and running and able to perform one of the game tasks so far.

“We have a lot of work yet to do. We haven’t yet started on the presentation aspect for this year’s very artsy themes,” said Mrs. Stander.

Members of Pickford’s team are Josie Kibble, John LaJoie, Allison Orr, Elaina Rader, Ben Satchell, Jacob Satchell, Amber Smith, and Anthony Streichert.

The Rudyard Nerf Herders are in their third year of competition. They have qualified for playoffs in the past, but this year’s goal is to qualify for state finals.

Isiah Otten, technology intervention specialist with the school, coaches the team. Participation has grown each year, and this year they have 30 students on the team. They have several mentors, their most regular being Gerald Ross, who happens to be a robotic engineer who has worked on ride designs for Disney.

“He’s our ace in the hole, for sure,” said Mr. Otten.

Rudyard has divided its team into smaller teams with specific tasks— robots, business, and strategy. This enables the team to accomplish all that it needs to without needing the entire team together at once. The smaller teams meet together at different times during the week, and the entire team meets on the weekend.

“We have a lot of kids involved in other (extracurricular activities), but they buy into the program,” said Mr. Otten.

Members of Rudyard’s team include seniors Autumn Beaudoin, Rebecca Brood, James Emrich, Aaron Mills, and Joshua Schrovenwever; juniors Hannah Brood, Ryan Brown, Andrew Folkersma, Johnn Folkersma, Katrina Folkersma, Nina Hough, Elizabeth King, Sophia Kowalski, Larry LaPonsie, Destina Marra, Rebecca McClellan, Ashton McConnell, Caleb Mills, Carlos Staten, Sean Staricha, and Nick Zeeryp; sophomores Jayden Cozort, A.J. Ellison, Samantha Hall-Leonhardt, Jeremy Povey, Novi Price, Aubra Ross, Shawna Weaver, and Max Zeeryp; Freshman Katie Folkersma.

Raider Robotics of DeTour is in its fourth year of competition. Two years ago, they qualified for and competed in the FIRST World Championship in St. Louis. They hope to return there this year. Angela Reed, superintendent of De- Tour schools, and Gary Dudeck, coach the team. She was involved as a mentor for two years, and has been a coach for the past two years. The team has 13 students, two coaches, and three mentors. Mrs. Reed says that robotics teaches students problem solving skills, how to think through and process ideas, and engages them with real-world experiences.

“The more opportunities we have to bring the ‘outside world’ into the school, the better and more educated our students will be,” she said.

FIRST robotics promotes what they call “coopertition,” or cooperative competition. They define it as “displaying unqualified kindness and respect in the face of fierce competition.” They encourage teams to help and cooperate with one another, even as they compete. Mackinac Island’s Great Lakers saw the benefit of coopertition first-hand.

At last year’s state finals, The Great Lakers’ robot was initially disqualified during inspection because of an issue with one of its controllers. Another team helped by giving them extra controllers so they could repair the issue and compete. Without this help, The Great Lakers would have been unable to compete and would not have qualified for the world championship.

While robotics is fun, educational, and beneficial in many ways, it is not cheap. Each team is responsible to raise anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 each season. Registration costs range between $5,000 and $6,000, in addition to travel, food, and other expenses. Grants and scholarships are available to teams. The Michigan Department of Education offers grants between $1,000 and $7,500. Teams in their first or second years of competition can receive $5,000 to $7,500. Teams in their third year can receive $2,000, and teams in their fourth year or more can receive $1,000. Teams that qualify for finals can receive additional grants, if money is still available. First and second year teams may also qualify for a grant from the national FIRST organization. All teams can apply for a NASA grant, worth up to $6,000 for rookie teams and $5,000 for returning teams. Remaining funds are raised by each team through local fundraisers and community sponsors. The further that a team advances, the more funds it must raise.

Cedarville has been able to raise funds mainly through sponsorships. They created levels of sponsors based on the amount donated. Businesses that donate will get their business on the team T-shirts, Web site, banner, or robot, depending on what level they choose.

Mackinac Island has also received great support from local businesses, residents, and community.

St. Ignace has used fundraisers such as a barbecue dinner and pumping gas. They have also received support from the community foundation and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

Pickford has solicited donations from local businesses, pumped gas, and held in-school sales to raise funds. Mrs. Stander says the community and administration has been very supportive of the robotics team.

“Community businesses have always given something whenever asked. We do not yet have the profile or excitement within the community that sports does, but that’s something we are working especially hard on this year,” she said.

Besides grants and local business sponsorships, the Rudyard Nerf Herders have raised money by selling photographs. Mr. Otten is also a professional photographer. He and the students have attended many area basketball games, taking action photos of all the players. During the game, they print out the photos and sell them to the families. All money raised is then invested into the robotics program.

“We’re still hoping to see financial support grow within our school and community,” said Mr. Otten.

Detour participates in service projects, such as serving meals, and helping the Knights of Columbus with their pasty sales to raise funds.

“The community support has been great,” said Mrs. Reed.

Competitions begin in March, with most of the district teams registered for events in either Escanaba or Gaylord on the weekend of Thursday, March 16 through Saturday, March 18. The State Championship will be held Wednesday, April 12 through Saturday, April 15. Qualifiers for the FIRST Championship will compete either Wednesday, April 19 through Saturday, April 22 in Houston, or Wednesday, April 26 through Saturday, April 29 in St. Louis.

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