The Black River Public School robotics team (from left to right): Joseph Dalecke, Jacob Brents, Andrew Petter, Will Lowry, Evan Brisita, and Noah Ehmann.
Very few people are declared world champions.
Even fewer earn that distinction while they are still in high school.
But for a handful of students at Black River Public School (Holland, MI.), they now get to get to call themselves world champions of robotics.
During the last weekend of April, the robotics team from BRPS teamed up with students from Holland High School and traveled to St. Louis, Mo., for the FIRST Robotics World Championship competition. The group was one of 400 teams from around the world to participate in the contest, and at the end of the weekend was part of the winning alliance (a larger group comprised of players from four different teams).
What makes it even more remarkable is that this is only the second year of competition for the BRPS robotics team.
“It is such a big difference between last year and this year,” said Noah Ehmann, a junior at BRPS.
BRPS principal Shannon Brunink echoed that statement.
“A huge difference came with just the merger of Holland High School and our school,” he said. “It turned into more collaboration than competition.”
The path to the championship started in January when the team had six weeks to build their robot. At the end of the building session is “bag day”, where the team has to seal their robot in a giant plastic bag. To be eligible for competitions, the robot has to be sealed and tagged with the date, even if it is not complete. From there, the team cannot open the bag until competitions start. Evan Brisita, a junior, said the BRPS team was feeling a little extra pressure going into their first competition.
“We were a little nervous because we hadn’t had a chance to really test it,” Brisita said. “We lost a lot of our build time due to snow days.”
However, as soon as the first competition started, the BRPS team could feel something special starting.
“We really had a wake-up call [at Grand Valley State University],” Ehmann said. “That’s when we knew we could go really far.”
Here’s the short version of how the the competitions work: Each team uses its robot and human players to earn as many points as possible in a set time period. Points can be earned in a variety of ways, such as having the robot throw an exercise ball through goals with varying point possibilities. The team with the most points wins the match.
The team continued its dominance in the regional round, earning a spot for the world competition. During the initial matches in St. Louis, the team was scouted by other teams from around the country, a practice that is used to build alliances for the competition. The BRPS team was selected to be on an alliance with teams from San Jose, Calif.; Bloomfield Hills; and Dallas, Texas. By the end of the weekend, they would become the No. 1 ranked alliance in the world.
And with representatives from NASA, Google, the Air Force, and many other notable tech giants in the audience, it was a good time to be the best.
Still, the team has even higher expectations for itself outside of the competitions.
Ehmann, Brisita, and a majority of the robotics team are upperclassmen and will be moving on to college soon. Andrew Petter, a junior himself, said it is important for the team to use their winning momentum to push the program to new heights.
“We want to start training younger students and work with the middle school program,” Petter said. “We want to see this have continued success.
Another goal the team established is to provide more community outreach opportunities and work with with local businesses to find more marketing opportunities to spread the word about the team and what it offers to students.
Sounds like they already know what it takes to be repeat champions.