High school robotics celebrates science

The winter sports seasons have wrapped up for local high school students. Spring sports are now underway but for high school robotic teams, the competition is heating up with a big event at Saginaw Valley State University this weekend.

High school robotics teams from across the state converged on H. H. Dow High School Friday, March 24 and Saturday, March 25 to compete in the FIRST in Michigan District Midland Event presented by Dow, as the FIRST Robotics season is underway once again.
Team members of "Rockefeller Robotics" of Mt. Pleasant High School move their robot through a hallway.
Of the 39 teams total, those representing Midland County were “The Charge” of Dow High, “Like a Boss” of Midland High, “BlitzCreek” of Bullock Creek High, “Volatile Chaos Inhibitors” of Meridian Early College High, CBA RoboKings from Calvary Baptist Academy of Midland, and “Rogue Robots,” Midland’s home school team.

Every January, FIRST Robotics announces the specific challenge for the season, and teams across the state and country begin designing, fabricating and testing their 125-pound robots. Next comes five weeks of district competitions, with about 25 events taking place across Michigan. Each team selects two of those competitions to compete in, hoping to rack up enough points to qualify for the state competition.

This year’s FIRST in Michigan State Championship will take place from Thursday, April 6 through Saturday, April 8 at Saginaw Valley State University. Less than 100 of the top-scoring teams from across the globe will then travel to Houston, Texas to compete in the FIRST Championship, often referred to as ‘Worlds.’
Meridian junior Hannah Capitana, center, and senior Luciano Tanzini, right, team members of "Volatile Chaos Inhibitors" of Meridian Early College High School, work on their robot.
“It’s pretty intense for those couple of months,” says Robert Fanning, whose son, James, an eighth-grader, is an auxiliary team member for the “Rogue Robots,” Midland’s home school team. Fanning adds that robotics has also served as a social activity for many kids. “The team’s really tight, and they’re really good friends, so that’s been neat to see,” he says.

For many years, Doreen Keptner has served as a volunteer during FIRST Robotics District Events at Dow High. She first became aware of robotics when her eldest son was a freshman at Dow. “He was very shy, and he said ‘I’m gonna try this,’” she says. The following year, Keptner attended her first competition and felt inspired to do more, “You’re in this gym and you’re seeing crowds of people celebrate kids who are interested in science and technology.”

Teams compete in a match during the FIRST in Michigan District Midland Event presented by Dow on March 24 at Dow High School.
She watched as robotics provided her son with a venue to develop skills of teamwork and leadership. “He went from this very shy student who wasn’t very confident to being the leader of the team, who was driving the robot, who was the team president, who was speaking to sponsors,” Keptner explains.

Midland High School junior William Kanar has been involved in robotics for seven years, which is not entirely uncommon among competitors. “Ever since, like, early elementary school, I wanted to do something that would teach me programming and stuff with computers,” Kanar says.
A robot grabs hold of an object while teams compete in the FIRST.
Robotics can appeal to students with differing interests, whether it’s programming, fabrication or design. “I’m a programmer, so I really enjoy making the robot come to life by breaking down problems really small and finding solutions,” says Kanar.

Dow High School senior Robert Roe similarly began his experience with robotics in elementary school. Roe clarifies that while winning points is certainly a goal for every team, winning isn’t everything.

“Our team has three big ideas when it comes to measuring success. They’re: ‘Did you learn something, did you build something, and did you have fun?’ So, we’re working on ticking off that last one today,” Roe says. After graduating from high school, Roe plans to study robotics at the University of Michigan. “There’s just so much that can be done with robotics,” he adds.

Members of the "CBA RoboKings" of Calvary Baptist Academy compete in a match during the FIRST at Dow High.
The three winning teams from the competition at Dow High were “E-Ville Empire” of Garber High School, “Titanium Tigers 5114” of Fenton High School and “The Radical Jays” of Shepherd High School.

Finalists from the competition included “Rogue Robots” of Midland, “BlitzCreek” of Bullock Creek High School and “CBA RoboKings” of Calvary Baptist Academy.

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Read more articles by Katy Kildee.

Katy Kildee, a Flint native, is a freelance photojournalist and she teaches part-time at her alma mater, CMU. She was the staff photographer for five years at the Midland Daily News. She hopes to further develop her passion and skill as a visual storyteller while continuing to learn as much as she can about the world around her.