Robotics competition returns to West Valley High School in person as engineering-minded Washington students compete
The commotion of high school students competing with the robots they’ve spent the last few months painstakingly building, combined with the raucous cheers of spectators at the West Valley FIRST robotics competition that wrapped up Saturday.
The FIRST Washington Robotics team from St. George’s School drives their robot in competition on Saturday, April 2, 2022 at West Valley School. The First Washington Robotics competition gives the team a task, in this case picking up rubber balls and throwing them into a goal, then brings the teams together for friendly competition. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
The event featured 19 teams, who competed in rounds of a three-on-three format. Teams were randomly placed into “alliances” and competed to score the most points. The goal this year was for the robots to shoot balls into one of two funnels and climb up a series of bars that increased in height.
Adrienne Collins, director of programs at For Inspiration and Recognition of Science Technology (FIRST) Washington, said FRC isn’t just about building robots, it’s about learning technology, leadership and applicable skills. students’ future careers. According to Collins, teams receive their challenge the first week of January and partner with mentors to help them build their robot before the competition.
This year’s West Valley competition marked the first time the event has been held in person since 2020.
Collins said that although previous competitions were held remotely, it was often tiring, so it’s great to return to in-person competitions.
“You know, as one of my colleagues said, our cup has never been filled because what fills our cup comes to these events and sees all the different solutions to the same problem, because they are really gives the same challenge and the robots are very different,” he said, “and seeing the energy and the excitement of the kids, and I mean, it’s just exhausting and exciting at the same time.”
FIRST Robotics is very student-focused and it takes a lot of preparation to prepare for the competition, said Debbie Reeder, one of the West Valley competition site hosts. The students involved have the drive to win, and when they work as a team and have their robot working, it’s exciting, she says.
During the competition, the teams each have a space in what is called the pit, where they can work on their robots. Sometimes things don’t go as planned and teams have to make last minute adjustments.
“I think the most exciting thing is when they make it work or really, when something doesn’t work and they’re able to fix it on the spot like that, I think that’s exciting for them,” Reeder said.
Darius Storm, a NeoBots team mentor, said he was proud of how the team competed and looked forward to the final stages. After some initial electrical and programming issues, he said the team was able to fix most of the issues. Storm enjoys teaching engineering to teams.
“It’s really cool to see them put the robot together and go out and compete and have fun, and just be able to allow them to do it,” Storm said.
After the qualifying rounds, the top six teams chose their alliances for the final round.
Stealth Robotics, of Cedarcrest High School in Duvall, was the top seed heading into the final round and immediately picked the second-ranked team to join them, Cedar Park Robotics, or CPR, of Cedar Park Christian Schools.
The West Valley High School team, CHUCK, has achieved its goal of being the top-scoring team, said team driver William Logan. Logan said he designed the team’s robot intake system, which includes a sensor system that allows it to pick up balls off the floor.
Logan, who is a senior this year, said being back in person at competitions after COVID-19 has been nice because he has enjoyed meeting people who are new to the program.
“There are a lot of new people this year, so it’s fun to make new connections with the younger kids in school and the people I don’t really talk to,” he said.
Stealth Robotics, CPR and Classified from Umatilla High School were the winners of the district event. The district event finalists were CHUCK; Appendix A-05, Hood River Valley High School; and Mustang Mechanica, from Northpoint High School.
Next weekend, the district championship will be held in Cheney and 50 teams will compete, Collins said. She expects around 3,000 people to attend.
Shuree Hoffman, who attended the event because her husband and son are both mentors, said it was fun to see the teams come together. Hoffman said robotics differs from sports because while very few kids who play sports will go on to play professionally, with robotics many kids involved will find their future careers through their involvement.
“Robotics programs (themselves) are so powerful for kids…and help them find their niche and what they might be good at, so don’t neglect your robotics programs,” Hoffman said.