Mind Games: Rocky BalboabotsTeam 5437

Alexis Danekas & Team 5437

It’s Saturday morning, January 6th, the first Saturday of the year.  It’s the Saturday our group of Booneville high school students have been anticipating for weeks. This is the day we will receive the news that will dominate the next six weeks of our lives. We gather around donuts and chocolate milk. The TV is on and speakers hooked up as we await the moment when FIRST Robotics (For Inspiration Recognition of Science & Technology) will announce to teams across the globe the specs required to build the 2018 robot that each team will use for this year’s District, Regional and World competitions.

Finally, the TV comes alive and a voice begins talking about the new game. All eyes and ears are glued to the screen as we get our first glimpse at the skill set that will be required for this year’s build. We take notes comparing what’s new with “oh, we’ve done that before,” to what we know we do well and the skills that present a potential challenge.

The presentation ends. The team moves into action. We scramble to get the code that will unlock the new specs.  Once done, it’s time to take an inventory of supplies on hand and build a list of supplies needed. As some of our team members head out to shop, others stay behind to begin building the game field.

Our team will spend six weeks building a robot that conforms to international specs. We will code our bot to perform tasks specific to the game that has been presented. We will test and tweak until the last day of the build. And then, on the very same day, each team across the globe will bag and tag their bot until the first competition.

Once the competition bot is completed, our team will begin building a second bot based on the same specs as the first. This will be our practice bot to adjust and tweak during practice sessions between competitions. In each competition, the teams are allowed some flexibility to switch out parts of their bagged competition bot that will, hopefully, enhance its performance.

In 2014, when Booneville’s Rockline Industries approached the local Chamber of Commerce with $5,000 seed money to invest in a high school robotics team, community response was overwhelmingly supportive. Within hours matching funds began to pour in from supporters like First Western Bank, Booneville Public School, and Representative Jon S. Eubanks. In little time, the sponsorship list grew to include several large and small businesses as well as individuals. Even with the existing sponsorships, there is still a need for additional sponsor investing.

With a team of 15 students, and a dozen adult mentors, the Rocky Balboabots compete in regional and world competitions through FIRST Robotics (firstinspires.org) as Team 5437. Our program is rich in teaching STEAM subjects (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics). And, it provides an opportunity for all students to test their interest in these subjects as they plan college studies.

“So many people think that all we’re doing is building a robot, but we’re doing so much more,” explains retired Coach Robert Dean, one of the team’s mentors. According to Dean, mentoring the team is “exactly like coaching a football game.”

Our students, with varied interests and backgrounds, joined the program for a myriad of reasons. Chandler Fritsche was influenced by his dad, David, who is also a team mentor. Chandler already had an interest in engineering, which made the robotics program enticing. Chandler is the team’s Chief Executive Officer.

I was also brought on by my parents, reluctant to even be a part of the team. I had convinced myself I had no interest in “building things” and wanted to become a Surgeon. I am now the team’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and avid spokesperson.

Roberto Montoya found a place on the team where he can use his passion for video gaming and electronics. Austin Rankin was happy to have a reason to get out of a classroom to go to competitions. Through the robotics program, he’s also discovered a career-changing interest in electrical engineering.

Lindsay Wallace was inspired to join by program mentor Dustin Garrett. “At first I didn’t like the program at all. But I kept coming and began making friends. This is a place where you can be yourself…And besides, math is ‘cool’ here,” she touts.

For whatever reasons our kids joined the program, to each person, it has changed lives – as a student and as a mentor. We come into the program because it’s ‘cool’ or because it gets us out of a classroom where we only sit and listen, to a class where learning is hands on. We join because we love math, science, technology, and art. In the end, all of us will tell you that this program is really about the relationships that are formed in the process of learning and competing. This isn’t just building a robot, it’s a sport for the mind.

Eleventh-grader Hailey Schmitt says, “This program gives me a sense of belonging. I like to have the answer that everybody else is looking for.” Hailey studies the manuals and has an uncanny knack for remembering exactly where information is buried – a talent that comes in handy when the team needs an immediate answer!

2018 marks the 4th year that our team the Rocky Balboabots 5437 will compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition. All three previous years our team qualified for the FIRST Robotics World Championships. And, all three years our team has returned home an award winner! The most recent award is when we won the NASA sponsored Engineering Inspiration Award which is awarded based on the team’s success in advancing “respect and appreciation for engineering within the team’s school and community.” This award is given to only 6 teams out of 3,357 teams representing 26 countries.

As BSavvy takes this issue to print, Team 5437 will be completing the final work on the robot that will go to this year’s First Robotics Competitions. Science, technology, engineering, art, and math have all become part of the process that has built this award-winning robotics team. To learn more about the Rocky Balboabots visit rocky-balboabots.org, If you would like to learn how you can form a team at your school, email info@team5437.org.