Last Saturday and Sunday, at Meadowview middle school, in Sparta, the Sparta Robotics team played host, for the eleven teams in the 7 Rivers Coalition. The teams came from: La Crescent (2977), Winona (3090), Aquinas (4011), Luther (4021), West Salem (5019), Houston (5339), Caledonia (5914), Holmen (6166), Kasson-Mantorville (6758), Trempealeau (7021) and Sparta (8024). On Sunday, Lead Coach, Austin Lee, played emcee, announcing teams and asking them to make their way to the arena, for competition. Then, the following day, he stood before the Sparta Area School District Board, along with team mentor, Dave Gaunky, and informed the board of the extracurricular club’s advancement and future hopes.
Saturday and Sunday
On Saturday, February 25th, the teams showed up for practice. During the four-hour window, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the teams set up their pits. Like NASCAR, all the tools, parts and minds needed to repair the robots, on the fly, are on hand. Each team is allotted a 10 foot by 10-foot space, referred to as the pit area. Banners, often presenting the names of sponsors for the clubs, stand well above the individual pit areas, displaying the teams’ logos and names, as well. On Saturday, teams hoped to work the kinks out of their robots, giving their mechanical buddies the ability to perform at peak levels, during the scrimmage competition, the following day.
On Sunday, also from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the scrimmage was in full swing. The bleachers were absolutely packed with fans, curious onlookers and interested passersby. The robots could perform several tasks, in order to score points, during the match. One of the scoring tasks for the metal competitors, was picking up cones, on the floor, and raising them up and putting them on a skinny post. There were also purple squares, which resembled the blow-up style and material, consistent with that of a beachball, but not matching the spherical shape. These purple pieces also started perpendicular to their scoring position, next to the yellow cones.
Another scoring task that the bolted battlers could perform, was to balance on a wobbly-wooden platform. Some teams would park a pair of robots on the wobbly wonders, at the same time. This garnered the majority of applause from the fans, with eruptions of vocal accolades echoing through the arena and out into the halls of academia. Teams that pulled off the hattrick of a triple balance (all three robots at one time), pushing the dimensional limitations of the platform, included La Crescent (2977), West Salem (5019) and Caledonia (5914). There was a total of 18 matches, which were completed in a time period of 3.5 hours.
At the conclusion of the event, several awards were presented, even though it was a scrimmage. They are as follows:
-Top Community Contributor – Westby Tor-bots (5903) This is for the most community points scored during the matches.
-Awesome autonomous – Caledonia (5914) This award is for the most reliable and consistent robot, throughout the competition.
-Most Competitive Energy – Westby Thor-bots (5903) This award goes out to a team that is focused on their mission and goals of the day. They came to succeed and they were on the field for a large part of the day with minor or no setbacks.
-Best Balancing Bot – La Crescent (2977) This award goes to the robot that achieves the top-ranking points, for balancing most often during the scrimmage.
-Most Creatively Charged – Luther (4021JV) This award goes out to a team/robot that has taken a unique and different approach to the game this year. The JV team implemented suction and an elevator/pulley system to move game pieces.
-Top Support Specialist – West Salem (5019) For the robot that is an all-around generalist, able to fill any role on the field with ease and reliability.
The School Board
When the final bell sounded for the scrimmage on Sunday, Lead Coach, Austin Lee, and mentor, Dave Gaunky, did not skip a beat. On Monday evening, they stood before the Sparta Area School District Board. “I am just filling in as a substitute for the kids, I gave them the night off,” said Lee. “This is their presentation, and I will try to do it justice.” Lee went on to explain that the Sparta Robotons belong to a global organization, known as FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. He explained that the teams span the planet, from Mexico to Turkey, Europe to Asia, and of course, the United States.
Lee spoke to reasoning behind the coalition of local teams. “The goal of the coalition is to not only give these kids, not only the additional support of what we offer, but the support of all teammates, on all of the other teams in the area.” Lee went on to inform the board that the reason for the scrimmage is to better prepare all the teams in the coalition for the upcoming competitions they will all participate in.
Austin Lee then told the board of the team’s outreach program. “The kids will go out to schools in the area, both public and private, to talk with them about robotics and science as a culture.” Lee expounded on the outreach program, iterating the larger picture of it all. “There are teams [from First] that go to Africa, to work on water filtration systems, and still others that go down to South America, to plant trees I deforested areas. We are just at the beginning of some of these larger outreach programs.”
As far as where Sparta stands in this area of robotics, Lee says he wants to be the strong center of it all. “I've been lucky enough to visit several local industries in the past 6 months and have witnessed the technological advancements occurring right here in Sparta,” Lee stated. “With that said, my goal is to develop a pathway of advanced manufacturing, automation and robotics so that our students are able to enter our local industry with the skills needed to be successful. I would love to work, in partnership, with our local industry leaders to make Sparta a center of advanced technology for our students to learn from.”
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