By Jackie Nelson
Hesston High School will host a battle of the bots on Saturday, Jan. 18 beginning at 10 a.m. in the Hesston High commons.
Swather Robotics is hosting their first tournament since the program began last school year.
Robotics teacher Trevor Foreman said the program has seen astounding success and growth. Beginning with only eight students last year, the program has tripled in size to 24 students.
“The purpose is recruiting other schools to get involved with robotics and Vex. It is just the next logical step. We’ve been to tournaments, let’s host one,” he said.
Foreman said Saturday’s event will be a break from the tradition sporting event.
“It’s something I’m sure people have never seen before. It’s hard to pull up a chair and just watch – you’ll have to stand to see the matches. There’s going to be music. There’s going to be kids all over, robots all over. It will be organized chaos and I’ll be in the corner going, ‘This is perfect,’” he said.
Robotics student Riley Armstrong said the tournament will be a totally new experience for spectators and participants.
“It’s not intense athleticism. Within a couple seconds you can see a robots strengths or weakness. But, it’s like when someone pulls out a new phone – everyone wants to look at it and see how it works. That’s what its like seeing some of these really cool robots,” he said.
Foreman said in addition to seeing new robots, participants will have the opportunity to score coveted slots at National and World competitions.
“At this event there will be two teams qualifying for nationals and one team for worlds. We will have two Champion trophies, two second place trophies and one Excellence trophy
“There will be one judge walking around looking at all the robots, watching how teams interact and how the robot performs. The one that wins to go to Worlds may or may not be a winner – its possible to come in last place,” said Foreman.
Foreman said community members who are curious about robotics can stop in for just a few minutes and get a feel for the competition.
“Come and watch. It’s free. The matches are about two minutes, there’s four minutes between matches. Someone can come in and, in 10 minutes, see two matches. It’s something they have probably never seen before,” said Foreman.
As a first-time coordinator, Foreman said while a smooth tournament is ideal, the experience of the participants is top priority.
“I hope the kids have the time of their lives. This is the first group to do this. Next year will be fun and will be nice, but the first time is something special. I hope we are competitive and have a good score when we finish. I’d like to bring home some hardware,” said Foreman.
Foreman said preparing for the competition on Saturday – which will feature 22 teams from five schools, has been a challenge.
“It has been a huge undertaking. However, Vex does a great job being an event partner. They give you a check-list. There is a whole webpage for how to run an event; there is no guessing what I need to do,” he said.
Foreman said finding a space to host the tournament became tricky.
“The robots work on a wireless network and you can get interference, which is sometimes a problem in our classroom and we absolutely cannot be next door to the server room,” said Foreman.
In addition to accommodating robots, Foreman said preparing for the people was just as challenging.
“We have to coordinate the Pit Stop, officials, training referees. I have two students who are returning who are coming back on Saturday,” said Foreman.
Swather Robotics students have faced their own sets of challenges as the competition nears.
“Making Master happy,” quipped Armstrong, “But really, it’s making sure our robots perform consistently.”
For other builders, consistency was a common challenge.
“It’s making sure your robot doesn’t break. They’ll be competing for 12 minutes and even just a couple minutes tears a robot up. If the arms decide not to work…The claws tend to break apart - so we are using rubber bands,” said junior Austin Cline.
The sometimes temperamental nature of the robots can be a source of frustration and pride for builders.
“It’s like a child. It does everything you don’t want it to. But you’ve created it from scratch and put all this effort into it and it could still be the kid that ends up in jail or the kid that goes to Harvard,” said Armstrong.
Cline added a build can be visualized and appear perfect, but may ultimately fail.
““It feels great, but sometimes you get your butt handed to you,” he said.
Robots failing and builds resulting in bots far from the builder’s vision is not uncommon in the robotics field – and a challenge builders thrive on.
“When you try and fail it stinks. But you have to start over and go back to square one. It’s the challenge,” said Kendrick Weaver.
First-time robotics student Amanda Myers said as a woman in a S.T.E.M. field, she is looking forward to the competition.
“My teammate and I really want a trophy. We want to prove we are just as smart and tough as the guys – we’re both girls,” said Myer.
As an educator, Foreman said experience is the best teacher.
“I’m hands-off. I like to see what they do, no matter what I think. Either it fails, like I may have suspected it might, or it works – I’ve been wrong before. I’ve seen adults working on robots at competitions, but what good does that do the kids? I provide the nuts, bolts, screws and equipment as best I can and then I’m hands off so the kids can really take pride in what they themselves built,” he said.
Foreman said the robotics program teaches students skills that will translate into the business world and in their personal lives.
“I want the community to be aware of this program and the life skills kids are learning. They’re learning skills like teamwork, anger management, programming, anger management, sportsmanship,” said Foreman.