Ann Arbor middle schoolers shine in state robotics competition

This past weekend a group of local middle schoolers had the opportunity to demonstrate their robotics prowess at the state championships of the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) robotics program.


After competing in a number of other events earlier this year, the Emerson School EAGLES robotics team went into the challenge ranking 12th out of nearly 2,000 teams across the nation.


"In the beginning of the season we did not expect to make it to state. We definitely wanted to, but it was a reach goal," says Emma Zamansky, an eighth grader and EAGLES member.


Zamansky adds that she and her 10 teammates were all thrilled and grateful to have qualified, particularly since the EAGLES are only a second-year FTC team.


At the state finals, which were held in Battle Creek, the EAGLES were one of 96 teams vying to advance to the FIRST world championship tournament taking place in Detroit next April.


The teams were challenged to build, program, and wire a robot in about 10 weeks, says Marchell Burgess, Emerson’s robotics program coordinator and a fourth-grade teacher at Emerson.


"The robot had to be able to unlatch from a lunar lander, collect materials, deposit the materials into the lander, and then latch back onto the lander and climb up again," she says.


Although the EAGLES performed well at the competition, in the end they did not qualify for the world championship event. But they're now ranked 20th in the nation and they're still soaring from the experience.


"They had fun, accomplished their goal of competing at the state level, met a lot of other students who enjoy being involved in the program, and they’re proud of the outstanding season they had," Burgess says.


The EAGLES will be taking a few weeks off for the holidays before collectively deciding what’s next for the team.


"Although we didn’t win, we feel that we have learned many lessons," Zamansky says. "We’ll apply that knowledge to the challenge next year."


Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at


Photo courtesy of Emerson School.

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