REED CITY — Never in his wildest dreams did Reed City Middle School teacher Brad Smith think one of his wildest dreams could come true.

Then it did exactly that, thanks to a group of youngsters who saw a challenge and met it.

Smith was contacted by a woman from JC Penneys in Big Rapids and told that they were willing to sponsor a rookie team in a robotics competition.

Was he interested?

“I wasn’t real sure, but I thought if we could get some kids to try it, why not.”

He talked with Jerry Hoppes about helping with the challenge ahead, and Hoppes answered, “Why not?”

The next step was to see if they could put together a team.

“Not all kids are into sports,” Smith said, “and some kids have the minds that are real creative. These kids were great. We had four guys who said yes, and they became our first ever Reed City High School Cyber Coyotes Team 3603. That number was designated as ours and no matter how many teams come from here in the future, they will always have that number.

Those four guys included two seniors, Noah Fasbender and Josh Warner, along with junior Kaleb Decker, and an eighth grader, Brenden Brocker.

Penney’s covered the $6,500 needed for the entry fee and registration costs for two events. Additional sponsors stepped up to the plate with financial contributions included Skip’s Pool and Spa, Diane’s Hairdressing, Crossroads Emergency Response Training, and Top Cat Trucking.

Tubelite provided the aluminum the team needed for their creation, and all systems were go.

It was January when the team received its kit.

“We got a ton of different stuff to use or possibly use. Penney’s sponsored over 400 rookie teams this year, and Michigan has the second largest number with 171 teams. California has the most, but only six more than we do.

“We went to our districts at Grand Rapids and placed 15 out of 40 teams, and when we got picked for matches, we were picked by another rookie team, and we picked a rookie team as our choice too.

“So these kids were a real rookie team when we went into the elimination matches, with a three rookie-team alliance, and I couldn’t be prouder of those kids.”

“This is the only varsity sport every kid has the potential of going pro in,” Smith said, shaking his head.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but these kids were up to every challenge, and when they headed into the competition at Grand Valley, they were still tweaking their entry as they were heading down the hall. In fact, as they were heading in the door to compete, they were still running alongside their robotic entry tightening screws and readjusting parts.”

Smith said that when they found out in November they had been accepted, it wasn’t until Jan. 8, they “found out what they had to do. They had six weeks until their first competition. “They had to be a team. They worked after school three or four nights a week, and on Saturdays to try to meet the challenge.

“And for that six weeks, we talked it, ate it, slept it, and discovered that we were in fact a team that was very good, and a fantastic project,” said Smith, who in “real life” teaches middle school science in Reed City. He had taught high school biology and physics earlier.

And so it was they headed off to compete. “The whole thing is to see how they come together and what they can come up with in the process. The competition allows these youngsters to come in and show their critical thinking skills that are needed in today’s world. The directions were basically, this is your kit, this is robotics, what resources do you need, this is life, complete it.”

So they did. “They did a great job at really coming together, trouble-shooting, and making awesome decisions. Now that they have an idea what it’s all about, other kids are saying, hey, if you do it next year, I want to be part of it. Our whole community was great in supporting this team, and we’re hoping we can compete again next year. Two of our guys say they’ll be back too.

“This year people were amazed to find out we had nobody with experience on our team, and they’d say, ‘You guys built this on your own? Who’s your mentor? No veterans on the team? And you did this well?

“All they could do was smile and say, it’s true.

“We had an engineer from Yoplait, David Chipman, come and help us with the programming and working out some of the technical aspects in our heads, so we could visualize what had to happen and get it to happen.”

Asked if he had anything more to add, Smith thought just for a second. “We did that. Yeah, it was awesome. We’ll be ready. We’ve got veterans. We need sponsors.”