Five students, one coach and their robot are ready to battle it out against more than 250 schools across the country.
The Battle Creek High School robotics team is headed to the U.S. Open Robotics Championship after recently qualifying for the first time.
“The very first match these guys went to, they were almost dead last,” said Mike Couch, industrial technology teacher and robotics coach. “And then they’ve gotten really well since. It’s impressive because these are freshmen and sophomores, without a lot of experience at it, going up against kids who have been doing this for six years because some of them have junior high programs.”
Battle Creek has been competing in robotics competitions for the past five years and was participating in scrimmages since Couch started teaching in 2008.
A school has to win a qualifying tournament to advance to the U.S. Open. The Battle Creek team, named “Lately,” won the Omaha Gross Catholic competition out of 42 teams, which qualified it for the championship.
The U.S. Open championship is from April 2-4 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The team also qualified for the Nebraska State VEX Robotics Championship for the first time coming up on Friday, Feb. 28, in Omaha. Top teams from both competitions will advance to the world championship at the end of April.
VEX robotics competitions consist of a team of students operating one robot to complete a specific task. Objectives change every year through the VEX robotics organization, Robotics Education and Competition Foundation.
This year, teams have to stack as many different colored cubes as they can with their robot in a two-minute match. There are different ways of earning more points, such as stacking cubes in a standing basket in the arena.
“In the beginning, there’s a 15-second autonomous portion where students write a program to do tasks, and whoever has the most points at the end gets a six-point bonus, which means the difference in the match a lot of times,” Couch said. “After the 15 seconds, you have a minute and 45 seconds of remote control.”
Two students have to work together to operate the robot during the match, which has been one of Battle Creek’s struggles this year.
“If you’re down by quite a bit, and you have a stack that’s going up, and you’re losing, you basically have to try to get that stack in the last second,” sophomore Kolton Wiehn said. “It’s kind of stressful, because you could knock the last stack over at any time.”
Other challenges the team had were problems with its robot. It took months to build the $1,000 machine, which has to be made specifically by VEX regulations. Two additional students from Battle Creek helped the team build it, Couch said. Team members also had to work through wiring and programming problems.
Freshman Alexis Anderson said she joined the robotics team after her brothers were members in high school, she said.
“I thought it looked fun to do and I thought I should try it out; now I love it,” she said. “I’m really nervous, but I’m excited about the upcoming competitions.”
Battle Creek is the only school in Northeast Nebraska so far that will be going to both championships, Couch said. Its biggest competitor is Ravenna High School, which is top-rated in robotics and has several teams.
While all five members of the Battle Creek team are looking forward to the state championship later this month, they are more excited for the national championship in April, they said. The school board is paying the registration fees for both competitions, but the team still has to come up with $1,500 for hotels and food.
For now, all the team can do is practice and keep working on technique before the competition. But the students won’t have a problem in excelling in their performance, Couch said.
“My favorite part is watching these guys succeed,” Couch said. “More than just succeeding, I love to watch them transition and problem solve and to see something click and for them to figure stuff out. That’s always fun for me to see kids do that.”