Heber Overgaard School District hosted their first ever First Tech Challenge event in the Performing Arts Center at Capps Elementary School. On a sunny Saturday in January, 10 robotics teams from around Arizona plus one from St. George, UT assembled their teams and robots for a competition. The opening ceremony included an excellent rendition of the National Anthem played by a brass trio of Timothy Batson on the trombone, Jeremy Batson on the trumpet and Rachael Batson on saxophone.
Once the competition began, the energy in the building was mediocre until the emcee, K. J. Batson who is himself a former robotics competitor, started ramping up the crowd’s enthusiasm.
The wildly successful Jaeger’s Robotics Team 8995 from Mogollon High School didn’t compete in this event since they were hosting it. They worked behind the scenes by preparing food for the competitors and attendees, including biscuits and gravy for breakfast, and condiment bags to go along with lunch which was Hawaiian Haystacks on rice. The Jaegers were assisted in the kitchen by volunteers Lon (AKA Grandpa Jaeger) Killough and his son James Killough. The Jaegers also assisted with the event in whatever technical or logistical needs arose.
There were local volunteers from town including some from the Ponderosa Lions Club, who are also a supporter of the program. Other supporters were QuallCom, Rockwell Collins, Cabin Fever, Batson Industries, H.O.S.T., Mogollon Family Dentistry, Encore Thrift Emporium and the Jaegers 8995 Team. There were three sets of two judges each that scored the rounds.
This year the competition game is called FIRST RELIC RECOVERYSM. It’s based on the idea of finding archeological artifacts by deciphering patterns to crack the code. Team members put in many hours of work building their robots, learning code, as well as learning to work together as a team while meeting the high standards of the competition. Wade Batson, Jaegers’ coach, admonished the attendees to remember to use the programs’ behavior code of “Gracious Professionalism” in the event towards one another.
The competition area was constructed on the stage. The field floor has a 12 foot square foam mat floor set up for four teams who compete as two teams through alliances with one another. The field floor reminded me of a boxing ring with game objects around the perimeter and in the center. The robots only operate within the field floor once the round begins and team members stay on the outer perimeters. Rounds are timed as well, similar to a boxing match. But, unlike boxing or the television shows where the robots fight each other, these robots must be programmed by the teams to accomplish the game objectives. They must move about the ring, picking up foam cubes (glyphs), placing them within a boxed grid (crypto box) on the sideline. There were also balls called “jewels”, and “relics” that the robots pick up and place on a game board at the last 30 seconds of the round. Rounds go quickly as the robots gather points by each activity they complete. The team who earns the most points win that round. It can be confusing to the casual observer, but the kids sure know what’s going on!
The energy the kids bring to their competition is fun to be around. But in order for them to compete takes serious time and dedication on both the kids’ and their coaches’ part. And money. It takes money to buy the technical gear needed. So, thanks to the sponsors and members of the communities who have helped them in their endeavors as you are investing in their futures. Kids with the knowledge and experience gained through this program are eligible for college scholarships. Wade Batson reported there’s $50 million in scholarships available at colleges around the country this year. Not too bad for some kids having a lot of fun!
The winning alliance of the competition was Paragon Panthers from Chandler and the PrestidigiTaters from St. George, Utah. The Inspire Award (the highest award in the First Tech Challenge) was also won by the PrestidigiTaters. Congratulations teams!
According to an email from Coach Diana Batson, “At the November 18th competition we were nominated for the Think, Design and Control Awards. We were the Winning Alliance Captain and we won 1st Place Inspire Award which double qualified us for the State Competition, so with the addition of hosting, we are triple qualified. We also volunteered at a First Lego League event on December 9th where we received the Outstanding Volunteer Award.
Also on December 9th both of our First Lego League teams qualified for their State Championship. They participated in that on Saturday at A.S.U. The Mogollon Mechanics ranked 22nd out of 47 and the Mechanical Mustangs ranked 16 out of 47 and they also won the award for Gracious Professionalism. Jeff and Brooke Andersen do an amazing job with these two teams!”
I’m amazed at the tenacity and dedication of all the kids and the adults who help them!
As a postscript to the above information, at a qualifying match in Chandler mid-January, the Jaegers scored the sixth highest in the FTC world! Not too shabby.