As a member of Smith-Cotton High School’s Team SCREAM, I am a geek and a nerd, a dweeb and a dork. But I am also a part of something that has absolutely changed my life.
Team SCREAM (Smith-Cotton Robotics, Engineering And Mathematics) is a competitive robotics team at the high school level. As a second-year team, we’ll be competing at the FIRST Robotics Competition World Championships today through Saturday at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, which will see more than 50,000 people from some 400 high school teams worldwide. These students represent the absolute best of the best of their generation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
And your students will be joining them.
Simply qualifying to attend the world championship event is quite a feat for an FRC team, even those who have been competing for several years, much less a second-year team like us. Teams in this competition are given six weeks, beginning the first weekend in January, to design, build and test their machine to play whatever game has been chosen for that year. Each game is designed by FIRST and presents unique technical constraints and challenges. And each year, teams of high-schoolers join together for six incredibly intensive weeks to design and build a 150-pound marvel of engineering. Students spend countless hours fabricating and testing parts and mechanisms until competition season arrives and they get the chance to go head-to-head with some of the most innovative young adults the world has to offer.
Team SCREAM was able to attend the FIRST World Championship last year as the Greater Kansas City Regional’s Rookie All-Star team, which was both an honor and an amazing experience. But this year, we are attending as the Oklahoma Regional winners. This year, we are competitors.
Naturally, it was a whirlwind of a ride just to qualify for the championships. After coming within one win of qualifying at two separate regional events, we thought our season was over. We were packed up and ready to start planning our off-season events, until an incredibly surprising opportunity presented itself.
Our head mentor and coach, Michael Wright, received a phone call early on March 27, inviting the team to compete in the Oklahoma Regional, as another team had dropped of the competition.
The catch? Practice matches for the competition were beginning that day, meaning that teams would have a full day of testing and making adjustments to their robot, while we were scrambling to return ours to competition-ready status. We finally left Sedalia at 3:30 p.m., with just nine out of our 38 students; we arrived in Oklahoma City around 11 that evening. We had to be up at 5 a.m. to set up our pit area for the competition. Qualification matches would be beginning around 9 a.m.
After taking a short time to make a few small adjustments to our machine, we spent the rest of Friday sorting through connection and control issues, struggling simply to get our computer to communicate properly with the robot, and to avoid the lagging controls that had cost us a match that day. It took until Friday evening to complete our fixes. With only three more qualification matches on Saturday morning, we were seeded No. 3, and were picked to participate on the No. 2 seed’s alliance. Seven short matches later, our alliance had won the OKC Regional.
But as exciting as all this is, in the words of former FIRST president Paul Gudonis, it isn’t “just about building a robot, but developing life skills.” Students who participate in this program aren’t just learning engineering concepts, they’re learning how to communicate effectively, how to truly come together as a team to accomplish mind-blowing things, and they’re forming relationships that will last them throughout the rest of their lives, both personally and professionally. In many ways we are a family: dysfunctional, frustrating, irritable, but loving and supportive nonetheless. I would not trade the friends I have made this year for the world.
If you’d told me at the beginning of my junior year that I would be helping to develop a machine that would be competing against robots built by some of the most brilliant students in the world, I’d have never believed you. If you’d told me at the beginning of my senior year, even after our first World Championship event, I might still have been skeptical. But now, it feels natural. Our team and our town have come together in such a fantastic way that I feel I should never have doubted.
And we really couldn’t have done any of this without the help we received from the community.
Sedalia has been an absolutely incredible town for our team. Smith-Cotton’s administration has been more supportive than I could have dreamed, to the point of even allowing us to attend the Oklahoma Regional on such short notice. Principal Wade Norton even drove six hours to attend part of our competition in Searcy, Ark.
Our corporate sponsors have been amazing as well, providing materials and services, as well as transportation. Without their help, the quality we achieved this year would never have been possible. Thank you as well for all your help.
I hope you can see just how exciting and excellent a program Smith-Cotton has in FIRST. The engineering classes at the high school, as well as the robotics team, are incredible benefits to the students, and are an example of what makes our school unique. I can’t wait to see where Mr. Wright and our other mentors and students have taken the team in the next few years. With any luck, and just a little help, Sedalia may well have a world champion robotics team soon.
Senior Chase Bussey is Team SCREAM’s captain and a driver for its robot, The Mockingjay.