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  • Jim Townsend

Robo Raiders Reach Finals in First Ever Competition

The new Portland Middle School robotics team recently participated in their first ever competition. The team ended up losing two to one in the finals.

The team is coached by Joel Cross. Cross started teaching middle school science at PMS at the end of September. Cross said, “I was teaching kindergarten at the beginning of the school year. When I made the move to the middle school, I mentioned to Mr. Robydek that I was interested in coaching and running activities. He told me that he has been looking for a teacher to start a robotics club for about a year. With my science background, this sounded like a great opportunity and I jumped in. Most clubs start at the beginning of the school year. We started very late. It wasn't until the middle of October that we could have our first meeting.”

The team is coed team can consist of three to 15 players. Cross said, “We had about 18 kids who were coming to experience the club, but put together a roster of eight for match day.”

Leading up to the competition, the met every Monday and Wednesday for two hours. Cross said, “Once we got closer to competition day, many of the players put in many extra hours to make sure the robot was ready.”

Cross explained that, “Competitions bring together a number of teams from all over the state. There are also ways to progress nationally. Matches start in October, but since we started so late we picked the latest competition possible to compete in. Our competition took place at East Jackson High School on Saturday, December 9. There were 36 teams in attendance.”

Not having any knowledge of how robotics competitions worked myself, I asked Coach Cross to explain the logistics for me. He said, “Matches work by pairing teams up in something called an alliance. Your alliance will compete against another alliance so that there are four teams playing at a time. This makes match play somewhat unpredictable because you might get paired up with a strong team or one that has had some technical difficulties throughout the day. Your opponents are also completely random. You play five of these qualifying matches in a day and then move on to the elimination round. We had a rough day in the qualifying matches going just 1-4 and finished in 30th place. Many of our partners had robots that just weren't cooperating with them even though ours was performing pretty consistently. We also ran into some tough teams along the way.”

Cross added, “We were pretty sure this was the end of our day, but were happy with our first experience. However, we didn't realize how the elimination matches worked. In the elimination matches the top four teams from qualifying rounds are selected as captains. They must choose two other teams to join them in a three-team alliance. They can pick any of the teams from the day. We were shocked that the number two team asked us to be their second partner. We asked them later what led to this decision and they said they had watched our robot perform consistently throughout the day and we were the type of partner they were looking for.

The elimination matches are best two out of three and each of the three teams must compete at least once. Our alliance ended up winning the semi-final match pretty easily 2-0, with our team competing in the second match to help the alliance move on to the finals. In the finals we watched as our alliance took the first match when the opposing alliance had one robot suffer a bad mechanical breakdown. The last two matches didn't go our way though. The other alliance put together two good robots in each match. Portland's robot performed very well in the second match along with our alliance partner, but it wasn't enough to even compete with the astounding score the other team put up. Because of our performance the Robo Raiders were asked to compete in the third match too. Unfortunately, we ran into the same results and ended up as runners up. The students were thrilled with our finish and I know many of them are looking forward to trying to get a high school team up and going together next year.”

The team was made up of:

Ignatius Arleth - Builder

Matthew Bond - Display Design

Collin Calley - Builder

Cadin Cross - Programmer

Abigail Davison - Research

Tycen Frohriep - Builder

Carter Johnson - Builder

Madi Luxmore - Team Documentor

Leah Nelson - Research

Timothy Pohl - Builder

Hannah Painter - Display Design

Kara Ramirez - Display Design

MacLane Renn - Builder

Zander Slisher - Programmer

Kaine Thelen - Builder

Jackson Weygandt - Display Design

Ben Wassmus - Builder

Each team members primary role is listed, but Coach Cross said, “the club was fluid and many students worked in more areas than just these listed.”

Cross sounded very pleased with his first-year experience. “This was my first time working with the robot. FIRST is the organization that runs these robotics leagues and they really encourage mentors to allow the students to tackle most of the problems that arise. I was learning with my team this year, but I found that many of them learned a lot more about robotics than I was able to since they would find out about something and just do it without telling me how. I really enjoyed this style because I could see just how much the students got into building the robot and I loved seeing the independence that they were showing. I actually worry a little bit because I may need a few of them to come back to help me guide my team for next year.”

PMS Principal Kevin Robydek said, “We have a pretty happy group of kids and a cool new trophy sitting on the cabinets in the office.”

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