By Jim Newell
How do you get to the robotics world championships? Practice, practice, practice.
Robotics Team 302 from Lake Orion High School now has that advantage with a new practice field at the Community Education Resource Center (CERC).
Team 302 won the Miami Valley Regional at Wright State University in Fairborn, Ohio on March 3, amassing a 16-1 record and qualifying for the FIRST Robotics World Championships April 25-28 at Ford Field and the Cobo Center in Detroit.
Bruce Stone, one of the team’s adult mentors, is the drive coach and helped with fabrication of the robot. He also has two kids on the team, Courtney and Matthew.
The team — which has 44 students — had six weeks to construct its competition robot and then isn’t allowed to practice with it or make modifications, until competition. Working out the bugs by having a practice robot and a field is crucial to performing well at competition.
“Having our own field, having a practice robot and having the donations from the sponsors to build this made a huge difference in the kids being able to practice and then testing all of our software,” Stone said.
“Honestly, in our first match that was the difference in us participating and in us winning. It does take the pressure off, qualifying for worlds, but we still want to be competitive in Michigan.”
James McCoy, a sophomore on the team, drives the robot, Spiro, during competitions.
“It’s an amazing field, it’s great to have it. It’s been a wonderful experience to have it here because we’ve been able to practice, which a lot of other teams have not been able to do. That gives a little bit of an edge in competition.”
Dan and Debbie Burgess of Builders Custom Flooring in downtown Lake Orion took an interest in robotics after their 13-year-old grandson joined the middle school robotics team. The Burgess’ donated the carpeting for Team 302’s practice field.
“We really didn’t have any idea what robotics was about until we started supporting him,” Debbie Burgess said. “It’s just amazing, absolutely amazing to see what they can do with this robot. Whoever would have thought that these kids are writing their own software, plus building the robot.
While the Burgess’s generally do not publicize their community donations, Debbie said she and Dan were thrilled to support Team 302.
“We tend to be very quiet about what we do, but the reason for us, really, to mention that we’re doing it is because we’re hoping to get more attention for the team. I think people need to see how successful this team has been, what they’re actually doing and what they can be doing,” she said
“We’ll be doing a lot more for them. Absolutely. To me, this is more impressive than sports, and my kids grew up playing sports. But when you see that you have kids that are coding, writing software, actually building the robot, being creative – it’s amazing.”
Burgess said she was impressed with the kids’ accomplishments, but also with their sense of character and “core values.”
“What team goes to a tournament and helps another team fix their robot so it can continue to compete? To me, that is some pretty significant character,” Burgess said.
Last year, Lake Orion had to pack up it’s robot and travel to northern Romeo to share that practice field. Having their own practice field at the CERC building saves time and the team can practice everyday if they wish.
“We had to drive an hour-and-a-half just to reach our practice field,” McCoy said, adding he could tell the difference between Team 302 and other teams that did not have a practice field. “Other teams were struggling, not knowing how to work their robot. We didn’t have that problem. We were right out the gate, we were one of the top robots, we knew what we were doing and once that was done we were on to the finals and we won.”
The team is now focused on upcoming district competitions in Lansing and Livonia. If they perform well in districts they will qualify for the state competition. Qualifying for the world championships does not automatically guarantee a team a spot at the state competition.
“We’ve really been working hard on (the robot). We’ve been looking at a new climber, we’ve been looking at ways we can go faster. We’re really hoping we can gun it for states,” McCoy said. “Being with this many people for so long, you have to work together and I would say we’re a pretty tight-knit family. It’s been really great and this is an amazing experience to have. Everybody’s enjoying it.”