Four Allegan County school districts participated at a robotics tournament at Gull Lake High School March 12-14. Above, the Otsego team’s (middle, in black) robot can be seen attempting to pick up a container while the Saugatuck team works to the left of them.

County teams compete in district robotics

By: 
Kayla Deneau, Staff Writer

Four Allegan County schools participated in the Gull Lake FIRST Robotics District Competition March 12-14, in an effort to compete with the 40 teams attending the event.

The teams’ challenge this year was to move storage crates the size of Rubbermaid containers into storing areas and stack them.

The Fennville, Otsego and Plainwell teams were each competing for the second year while Saugatuck’s program just began this year.

Saugatuck freshman Marlaina Leo said she has always been interested in engineering and decided to join the rookie team after deciding the best way to get experience was to “jump right in.”

Leo said the team’s goal was to have a robot built in time to compete, completing their goal before competition began.

“It is just as hard as you think it is going to be, maybe even harder,” she said. “FIRST says ‘It’s the hardest fun you’ll ever have,’ and it’s very true.”

The Saugatuck team finished the weekend ranked 40 out of the 40 teams competing, but was awarded the Judge’s Award for never giving up.

Fennville senior Cody Valentine said a lot of long nights were spent at the school, first building the robot then tweaking it and getting prepared.

“It is more laid back than the other sports we play,” he said.

Senior Ryan Taylor agreed, saying the competitions were really “coopertitions.”

“When joining robotics you can learn a lot,” he said. “You don’t have to be the coolest or most popular person; it brings different groups together. There are friends to be made.”

The Fennville Robohawks started the competition strong, ranking eighth out of the 40 teams after the first four qualifying matches, out of 12 total. Struggling in the next six matches, the team’s rank dropped substantially but they were able to finish ranked 32 with two final strong performances.

Team mentor Benson Propst said, “Despite a bottom half finish, the team members responded to adversity in a positive manner and are already making building and programming revisions.”

Otsego senior Skylar Harrington and juniors Cam Brylowski and Sage Hess said they all joined robotics because they want to pursue mechanical engineering.

“The building is fun and the competitions and the atmosphere are great,” said Bry-lowksi.

In the team’s second year, they hope to make it to state.

“We were close last year, but the robot broke,” Brylowski said.

Team mentor Nate Jepkema said brainstorming the building of the robot went more smoothly in the team’s second year.

“We laid out all the options of what we could do and everyone voted on the simplest way of doing it,” he said.

Harrington said being a part of the robotics team has opened doors for him with internships and made college decisions easier.

Hess said, “Anyone can do it. There are all different areas of the team; if you’re not good at one, you will be good at another whether it’s building, ads, getting sponsors, whatever.”
Brylowski said robotics takes learning outside of the classroom.

“We’re learning life skills we’ll need in the future in a more hands-on environment than a classroom,” he said.

The Otsego Alotobots finished the two-day competition ranked 21 out of 40 teams.

In its second year, the Plainwell team was hoping to make it to the playoffs and get chosen for an alliance according to junior Kayleb Mallory and sophomore Seth Strong.

Mallory said he joined the team as it aligned with his interests in engineering.

“It’s awesome to build something and actually see it work,” he said.

Strong said the team’s goal was to do better than they had the previous year.

“We’re hands down doing better,” he said. “Last year we just trapped people but this year we are able to score points.”

Strong said each part of the team is interesting­—from brainstorming to building to going to the competitions.

“Its nice to meet all the other teams and the competitions are just fun,” he said.

The Trojan team ended the first day ranked 19 but had setbacks the second day landing them in 30th by the end of the competition.

Each team member said they were looking forward to continue using the skills learned either on the team next year or in another realm of their lives.

One senior, Otsego’s Harrington, said he planned to return to the team as a mentor next year.

For more information on robotics education, visit www.usfirst.org

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