FIRST things first

The Fox High School Robotics Team prepares for their annual FIRST Tech Challenge


Cassidy Waigand

William Helfrich, junior, Mason Toombs, sophomore, Caleb Looney, seventh, and Mori Hodel, junior, brainstorm ideas for their robot in the FIRST Tech Challenge.

The Robotics Club will be meeting from 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. every Monday and Friday as they prepare for the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST, Tech Challenge. Sarah Melton, junior, described the beginning of the year. “First we have applications and then an interview for freshman or new members. If they were in Robotics before, but they weren’t there eighty percent of the time they had to reapply,” she said.

The FIRST Tech Challenge officially begins in September, and in the beginning of this year-long program, the teams must be decided. Melissa Davis, one of the Robotics Club’s sponsors, explained why they have tryouts. “You’re only allowed eleven or twelve people,” she said as she explained the teams. “When you get too many people it’s like too many cooks in a kitchen. It isn’t as efficient.” With a larger team, there would be fewer people focusing on what needed to get done. Even though only a set number of students can be on a team, however, that doesn’t mean that the others in the club are in any way excluded. “We have specific people to help and give input, but we’re only allowed to have a certain number on a team,” Davis said.

So, with only around 11-12 people allowed on a team, the sponsors of the Robotic Club used the tryouts to decide the teams.  “We gave them a set of random pieces and had them build a structure that was still sturdy. We wanted to see if they could think outside of the box. They also had interview questions,” Davis said when describing the tryouts. “Then we made the teams based on what we saw. They have to know what the challenge is. Did they research? Are they dedicated?”

After the tryouts have ended and the teams have been decided, the students get to work. One of the team captains Courtney Cole, junior, explained what happened next. “We first make sure they know the rules,” Cole said as she talked about the team. “After they know the rules we have a brainstorming session to come up with one robot design. We divide up into builders and programmers after that, and the builders build the robot, and the programmers do the programming.” Besides this, “the engineers have to make sure everything is on right and on tight so we don’t have to make changes when we get there,” Melton, who is also a team captain, said.

Once at the FIRST Tech Challenge, their teams will get into assigned groups of four. In this group of four, two of the teams are allies that work together against the other two teams.  Besides this, the teams “tell the judges about the robot. The judges see the engineering notebook and the math that goes into building the model. Did they think outside of the box?” Davis said. “It’s all STEM learning.”
“It can be stressful,” Melton said, “but the atmosphere is friendly and accepting.” Cole also enjoys the club. “I enjoy the whole creative aspect of it. That there’s no one right way to do things. It takes communication to finish the robot.” Altogether, Robotics Club takes a lot of dedication, hard work, and creative thinking, but many of the students would say it is worth it.