Strike Zone has had an amazing season that has pretty much surpassed our wildest dreams. Early on, when we were writing the grant and trying to visualize a new team, our coach Tony Diodato felt that having a rookie team would give students a chance to be more hands-on with building a robot.
That has most definitely been the case. It’s been one of those most rewarding instances in which our team members pulled themselves together, without any sort of fighting or haggling for top position, and emerged as a team of leaders who worked seamlessly together. Tony, who has been involved with the robotics program in Lapeer for several years, said this has been his easiest season yet, adding several times that “the kids have got this.”
They sure did.
After the first competition weekend at Kettering in early March, the team learned they ranked in the top 100 teams, out of more than 400 teams in Michigan, but still wanted to improve their robot. So they visited the EngiNERDs in Grand Blanc, a seasoned veteran team headed up by Clinton Bolinger who is employed by Cypress Integration Solutions and The Robot Space in Lapeer. While robotics is competitive, FIRST emphasizes the concept of “gracious professionalism,” in which teams both help and compete against other teams, a concept very similar to the real world of business after which FIRST is apparently modeled.
Strike Zone members redesigned their robot with grabber hooks and an intake system similar to the EngiNERDs’ bot, paying tribute to the Grand Blanc team by adding the team’s name to their robot’s panels of sponsors.
Strike Zone’s commitment to improving was rewarded at the Lansing competition, where their alliance came in second place in the finals, and the team won the coveted Rookie Team All Star Award, as well as the Highest Rookie Seed Award. (Our sister team, the Chimeras, was in the alliance which won first place at Lansing). Both teams were featured in the RoboZone show on TV50.
Strike Zone’s achievements at Lansing propelled the team to the State Championship where they won the Rookie Inspiration Award, ranking 40th overall at States.
The ranking was enough to send Strike Zone to the FIRST FRC World Championship in St. Louis, where the top teams from around the world competed in eight divisions. Strike Zone competed against 77 other teams in the Galileo division. While there was no trophy to accompany the distinction, the team ranked first among rookie teams in their division and ranked 24th at the end of qualification matches. Despite the team’s ranking, making it to the next round required being picked by one of the top eight alliance captains. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, which concluded the team’s participation.
While obviously our Strike Zoners would have liked to go further, we are beyond thrilled that our little rookie team did so phenomenally well this year, and are grateful for the opportunities we’ve had. At States, our team’s robot was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, as well as Dean Kamen, the Segway inventor who founded FIRST Robotics. At Worlds, we rubbed elbows and traded gear with teams from Australia, Israel, Norway, and Mexico, who all share our passion for this growing mechanical sport. We should also mention that Gov. Snyder was honored in person at States as the “Make It Loud” award recipient for his support of growing robotics programs in Michigan, and while he couldn’t make it to St. Louis, Snyder was lauded on the big screen at Worlds.
Many thanks to the mentors and sponsors who made this season possible, including Cypress, The Robot Space, Grid Logic, JDM Systems Consultants, Fastenal, and Lapeer Community Schools; as well as our rookie grant sponsors, Argosy Foundation, Bechtel, and United Technologies Corporation.
We’re now turning our attention to helping the Chimeras with the July 25 Robo-Con event, as well as other community events, fundraisers and seeking students, team partners and mentors for this coming year. As a parent who has seen my own son gain skills, focus and opportunities through robotics, I can’t emphasize enough what an amazing opportunity this is for students, especially since our local teams try hard not to charge students to participate. It’s not uncommon for teams to charge hundreds of dollars for students to participate; I’m so grateful that Lapeer teams work hard to make this opportunity available to any student who wants to get involved.
Finally, we also want to mention that a Chimeras team member, Alyssa Garcia, traveled with our Strike Zone team to Worlds, where she was named among the Top 10 Dean’s List recipients.