This weekend, the Sparta Robotans are hosting a “Week 0” scrimmage, out at Meadowview middle school. On Saturday, there will be robot inspections and a practice, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. On Sunday, the official scrimmage matches and awards will take place, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The public is welcome to attend and there will be concessions available.
Teams attending the two-day event have all been verified. They are all from the 7 Rivers Coalition, and are as follows: 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).
The Sparta program is part of an international organization, called FIRST, which stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.” The program was founded on March 20th, 1989, by Dean Kamen, and is headquartered in Manchester, New Hampshire. There are currently 9,316 teams, spanning the globe. The majority of the teams reside within the United States, but there are teams in Egypt, Turkey, Japan, China, Australia and Mexico; just to name a few.
The Sparta High School team is part of the First Robotics Competition (FRC), which is the highest level in FIRST. The level below them is for the middle school level, called First Tech Challenge (FTC), with the first level being the elementary level, referred to as the First Lego League (FLL). As one might expect, the challenges and difficulty increase, as the levels go up.
Austin Lee, lead mentor and coach, told the Herald that any team in FIRST is welcome to attend any competition that is put on by any member of FIRST. “When you go to some of the bigger competitions, especially near larger cities, like Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Houston, you will have teams that fly in from other countries, so you are literally networking with people from around the world, in person.” Lee admitted that when they go to Cedar Falls, Iowa and La Crosse, they do not see many foreign teams, as those are not major airport hubs.
Lee also talked about this weekend’s scrimmage, while explaining some of the rules, as well. “This weekend’s scrimmage will be at Meadowview, and we use the term, co-opertition,” Lee stated. “There are many matches in a competition, and there are 3 teams working together, against another 3 teams, so we constantly help each other out, knowing that in a later match, we may be going against someone we helped and be allies with someone we opposed. It becomes in everyone’s best interest to ensure success for every team, and the students embrace that spirit.”
Lee explained that each team has a pit, similar to NASCAR. “It is a 10 foot by 10-foot area,” Lee explained. “The toolboxes are there, along with all the spare parts that we have. We follow strict safety protocols, so everyone in the pit must have safety glasses on. But let’s say, for example, your team burns their motor out, and you did not bring another one. Teams can go to other teams and ask for that part, and teams are always giving other teams what they need. We refer to that as ‘gracious professionalism.’”
Lee told the Herald that at the end of the competition, the unwritten rule is to return the part. “It is like a mini competition within the competition, to see who can be the most helpful team. We needed battery straps at one competition and 20 teams came running with straps.”
At this weekends scrimmage event, one of the tasks teams can get points from, is balancing their robot on a teeter-tauter-type apparatus. There will be an arena where obstacles will be set up and tasks will have to be performed. The official term for the three teams working together, during competition, is an alliance. There is the red alliance, which goes against the blue alliance, each with 3 teams.
While there is no malicious smashing allowed, defense can, and does, play a roll. “You can just stop in the path of an opponent, forcing them to go around you, as they try to complete their tasks, causing them valuable time,” Lee explained. “So, if a mechanism on your robot fails, you utilize this tactic, while the members of your alliance continue scoring.”
Last year, the Sparta Robotans were known as the alliance that played great defense. The teams are constantly changing, with each match, and a team is never out of the competition. “When a team is on its way to the final round, they can choose the other two teams they want to join them,” Lee explained. “So, if you are great at scoring or playing defense, they can choose your team, regardless of your current ranking in the competition. Last year, alliances wanted Sparta to be on their alliance because of our great defensive play and climbing ability.”
The popularity of being on team Robotan has grown exponentially. For 8th graders, there is a “Transition Day,” where they sign up for classes and activities that they may be interested in,” said Lee. “There were 49 students that signed up for the robotics team on that day. That is more students than went out for freshmen football.”
Lee and Mentor, Dave Gaunky, stressed that everything is student led, student driven. “We are here and we will advise when they ask us too, play devil’s advocate, when they ask us to and if they need to learn a new skill, we will show them, but they make all the decisions,” Lee stated. “The Robatans tell me when something needs to be purchased, and they even are in charge of how many competitions we will attend.”
The Herald will cover Sunday’s event, and future stories will cover more in-depth information on the funding of the team, rules and regulations and growth of the club.
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