High school students kick off robotics season

BIG RAPIDS — High schoolers across the area will spend the next six weeks hard at work, preparing for various competitions. On Saturday, 15 teams of students from Mecosta, Osceola and neighboring counties gathered on Ferris State University’s campus to watch a kickoff event for the new FIRST Robotics season.

For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) is a program designed to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and innovators, by engaging them in programs that build science, engineering and technology skills.

Previously, teams would send a delegate to Grand Rapids to watch the kickoff video, which contains information about the new season’s challenge, and to pick of the kit of parts, which could help in constructing the teams’ robots. This year, the Crossroads Charter Academy and Big Rapids High School teams worked together to bring the kickoff to Ferris, explained CCA coach Jim Barstow.

“If you have 15 teams in the area who can come, you can host a kickoff event,” he said.

Teams present at the event included local schools, Big Rapids High School, Chippewa Hills High School, Crossroads Charter Academy, Evart Public Schools, Morley Stanwood High School and Reed City High School, as well as Baldwin High School, Ludington High School, Manton Consolidated High School, McBain High School and more.

Barstow noted his team is hoping for a few snow days over the next six weeks of construction and planning time.

Toward the end of February, teams will need to bag their robot and cannot work on it again until they compete.

This year, teams will compete in an arcade-themed challenge. Competition-ready robots should be able to lift crates, called “power blocks,” and place the blocks on switches or a scale. At the end of each match, robots ascend to a platform.

“Since last season ended, we have been looking forward to this season’s game,” said Brad Smith, coach of the Reed City High School team.

Smith said his team held pre-season meetings to work with last season’s robot, which gave freshmen or other new members to the team more confidence in participating this year. Senior students also are teaching their younger peers about the team and the jobs they may be assigned to make a competition-ready robot.

“They learn their first idea doesn’t always work. They learn to accept failure. Even if their first idea does work, they learn the idea can always be refined. It’s a process,” Smith said.

BRHS team coach Andrew Defever said with last year’s seniors graduated, he is excited to see new students fill their predecessors’ shoes.

“I’m looking forward to having new students doing programming and leading design,” he said. “It will be interesting to see students who previously had support roles take over leader roles. I hope the students set a good timeline and stick to it.”

Morley Stanwood High School co-coach Dave Nelson said each year the team changes and begins the season learning its strengths.

“Every year, we have a different group of kids and they all have the ability,” he said.

One of the many students present for the kickoff event was Evart Public Schools senior Scott Whitman, who is looking forward to solving the puzzle of this challenge for the competition season.

“This is a lot different from what you learn in school,” he said. “The problems that arise are more tangible.”

Chippewa Hills High School coach Jody Clark agreed.

“I’m looking forward to what the students are going to learn,” she said. “This is a different set of skills than what they learn in the classroom.”