AKRON, Ohio (WJW) – Perhaps best known for its athletic titles, a robotics team at St. Vincent St. Mary High School is preparing to compete for one of the school’s biggest championships ever.
With an exciting and close finish on March 11 at the F.I.R.S.T Robotic Challenge at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, the St. Vincent St. Mary team beat 39 other schools to bring home the state championship.
That propels them to the international challenge in Houston, Texas starting April 19, where they will compete against 192 of the best robotic teams in the world.
“We didn’t expect to go to state championship this year. That was our goal at the beginning of the year, to go to states, but we have these qualifiers. When we actually got to states and we won states, that was just so exciting,” said senior Aidan Spoerndle.
Teammates met during the summer planning their robot and meet frequently after school.
“We meet after school every day. We sometimes meet on weekends with other teams. We put so much in this robot. I think that’s why it means so much to us to go to world’s,” said senior Isabella Dunlap.
Their advisor, Bob Engles, says having the best robot possible is only a part of what makes teams successful in the competition.
During the first part of the competition, the robot must complete tasks it is programmed to do without human intervention. For the second part of the competition, teammates have to learn to work and communicate together and work along with another team with which they are randomly paired.
“To score points, the more difficult the task, the more points you get. But the bigger the chance you have of failure, so they figure out how they are going to get the most points and then that drives their design,” said Engles
‘Frank’ is designed to compete by stacking cones on rods.
“We thought it was essential that we get efficiently stacked cones with great speed and get it where we need it as soon as possible,” said senior Owen Karl.
“We realized you can go to these competitions with the best machine ever, but if you haven’t driven it and you haven’t practiced it and you don’t know the nuances of the machine, you will not score a lot of points,” he added.
Engle says this year’s seniors were driven as freshmen when they had a competition within the school between their class and the seniors at the time.
This year’s seniors won the competition and very nearly made it to the state championship that year.
For the next two years, they had to deal with the restrictions in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Over the years, we sort of already learned kind of what works and what doesn’t, so this year we kind of set out with, ‘there’s things we know are going to work,'” said senior Brenton Ujhazy
“We were confident that after a couple of our regionals we did really well at, we were confident. We knew there was a really good chance we could end up winning this thing,” said Karl.
“More than anything, I’m excited. We haven’t seen this level of competition before and I think it will really help us grow not only as engineers, but as people,” said Dunlap.
The senior class is already imparting what they have learned on this year’s freshman teammate.
“I’ve learned a lot — from the most basic stuff of just how to put this together to the more complex strategy and how everything works,” said Daniel deJohng.
The team plans to make some adjustments to their robot in time for April’s international challenge.
In the meantime, their principal says their accomplishments will be recognized alongside the historic titles earned by the school’s athletic teams.
“These young men and young women who are on the team might not know it, but they will have a banner hanging in our gym. It is important to know that banners get hung for academic success as well as athletic success,” said Principal Kim Gorr.