December 19, 2012 - On Saturday, the Oxford Middle School robotics team received some new hardware, but it wasn't the usual circuits, wires and gears.
Front row (from left): Joe Legault, Vivian Woudstra, Betsey (robot), Rory Boes, Andrew Romano and Ethan Matteson. Back row (from left): Gary Krol (Coach/Mentor), William Mace, Adam Bertich, Josh Krol, Tommy Frank, Daniel Hopman, Jack Jamieson and Christie Watson (Coach/Mentor). Back: Tom Bertich (Coach/Mentor). Photo provided. (click for larger version)
No, sir. This time it was a trophy and some medals.
That's because the team, known simply as TOWR, was part of the three-team alliance that won the 2012 FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) East Michigan Championship held in Canton. A total of 23 teams competed.
Oxford's alliance won the final match of the day 255-240 to bring home the gold.
This is quite an impressive feat considering this is only the team's second year of competing.
"I'm just incredibly proud of all of them," said Gary Krol, one of the team's coaches/mentors. "These kids did just a great job this year."
TOWR's win was truly a Cinderella story.
"We did not expect to get that far at all," Krol said. "We had a lot of challenges at the beginning of the year just trying to get the team organized and going. So, we focused on keeping it simple and doing the simple things well. That's what really carried us through the qualifying tournaments and the championship. We were able to do the simple things well over and over again. That seemed to pay off for us."
The team consists of 12 boys and one girl, all of whom are in the sixth through eighth grades at OMS.
The robot created by TOWR was affectionately named "Betsey." Her job was to play this year's FTC game dubbed "Ring It Up!"
In a nutshell, the object of the game was to use the robot to place colored plastic rings on various pegs in order to score points.
The game consists of two distinct periods. The first is a 30-second autonomous period during which the teams have their robots pre-programmed to hang rings on their own with no human control or interaction whatsoever.
The second is a two-minute driver-controlled period during which the teams direct their robot's actions on the playing field.
Bonus points were awarded for things like one robot being able to lift up another robot.
Krol was really sweating the autonomous period, but in the end, his team and old Betsey came through with flying colors.
"We were struggling to get that working consistently all season," he said. "That last match that we won, we were actually able to hang the autonomous ring, which gave us a lot of extra bonus points. That is what really won us the match."
TOWR's season started in the middle of September. Preparation and practice consisted of the team meeting twice a week for two-hour sessions. "Generally, the week before the competitions, we met every day to fine-tune the process," Krol said.
In addition to winning the East State Championship, the team also won the PTC design award. "It was for a design that was simple, but yet effective in meeting the goals of the matches," Krol explained. "One of the things that I wanted to focus on all year was keeping it simple – let's not make things overly complicated and get in over our heads."
Although trophies, medals and newspaper articles are nice, Krol believes the real value of having these kids participate in robotics competitions is derived from the lessons they learn.
It exposes them to a lot of "real-world experiences." It teaches them how to work together as a team. And it shows them the importance of the trial-and-error process.
"They're able to build things that maybe don't work initially, figure out what's wrong and improve on it," Krol said.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.