Submitted by Shane Mauldin, McKinney ISD
In spite of various Hollywood efforts to portray them as tender-hearted romantics (Wall-E), dangerous antagonists (HAL 9000), selfless heroes (Optimus Prime) or pompous buffoons (C-3PO) the obvious fact is that, in the real world, robots are simply cold, utilitarian machines without heart or soul.
The people who create them, however, are a different matter altogether.
And, at this year’s FIRST Dallas Regional Robotics Competition, the McKinney High School Robotics Team revealed the heart and soul of their school by helping out some crosstown rivals from McKinney North High School — and earning the FIRST Gracious Professionalism Award along the way.
The Gracious Professionalism Award represents a core component of the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) ethos: to compete wholeheartedly, with excellence, while treating one another with respect and kindness and to avoid leaving anyone feeling like they have lost.
This year’s FRC event challenged teams to construct a robot that could gather and shoot frisbees into elevated slots as part of a three-team alliance. Robots received points for each successful throw as well as additional points for climbing sections of a vertical metal framework positioned in the center of the court. Teams had to deal not only with the difficulty of the task itself but also with aggressive defenders determined to thwart scoring attempts.
At the start of the two-day FIRST competition held March 21 – 23 at the Irving Convention Center, the team from McKinney North High School found itself, for various reasons, one team member short of the four necessary to complete their drive team — and struggling to ready their robot for inspection.
As McKinney High School’s team captain Kristin Ross made her way around the convention center meeting the other competitors, she discovered North’s predicament and returned to her team with an idea — let’s help them out.
“Knowing this was their first time to go to the competition, and with them trying to compete with only three team members, I knew the amount of stress coming their way,” said Ross. “When I went over to see how they were doing on that first day and saw their struggle and confusion, it made me want to help.”
The McKinney High team were happy to pitch in, and for the remainder of the day, two and sometimes three McKinney High students worked in the North pit. With their assistance and with help from Raytheon mentor Carl Libby, the North robot passed inspection.
But, as the second day of competition got underway, the situation for the team from North grew even more challenging. With preliminary rounds set to begin, only two of their team members were able to attend.
Would McKinney High help out again?
“We have to,” was Ross’s response. “It’s McKinney.”
So, McKinney High teammates Josh Meyrick and Maya Ermeus performed double-duty, with Meyrick tirelessly shuffling back and forth all day, loading and unloading 140 pound robots for the North and High teams and scoring points during qualifying matches.
North captain Evan Fowler was grateful for McKinney High’s willingness to help. “We have had a small team all year, but when we showed up to the competition with only three team members, I was pretty worried,” he said. “Naturally, I was pretty grateful when McKinney High sent Maya and Kristen to help us make modifications and pass inspection on Thursday. When Maya and Josh showed up the next day to help out, I could hardly believe it.”
“McKinney High let us borrow not only valuable team members,” he said, “but drills, spare parts, anything we could need. There is no way we could have even competed without their help, let alone come as far as we did, and they have my gratitude.”
But the challenges weren’t over.
When he showed up for the final day of competition, Fowler discovered that he was the only member of his team there. Again, McKinney High stood in the gap with Ermeus, Addison Duhon and a member from a Kansas team filling out the drive roster.
As the day pressed on, North’s team rose through the ranks to become an “Elimination Match Captain.” Their first choice for an alliance? McKinney High School, of course.
In the final tally, McKinney High School landed in 40th place overall; North placed 11th.
As the FIRST judges made their rounds among the teams, they heard about this selfless team from McKinney High. “North and others told the judges how our team had stepped up to help a team considered our rival in sports, and the judges were impressed,” said Pam McBride, McKinney High School Robotics Coach. “Beyond helping North, the judges commented on how well our team worked together between matches tweaking the robot to make repairs or improvements.”
They presented McKinney High School with the Gracious Professionalism Award.
“FIRST teaches us to give and share, and team 4300 [McKinney High’s FIRST designation] wants to be a helping hand to anyone in need,” said Ross. “No rivalry, no name calling, simply helping a friend in need. I don’t think we would have wanted to team with anyone besides North in the finals. Thanks for picking us North! Team 4300 will always be gracious to accept.”
Fowler had high praise for the team from across town. “They really demonstrate what makes robotics such an amazing community,” he said, “especially when it comes to newcomers. Everyone is willing to help those who need it most, even at great cost. It was an honor and a pleasure to work with such a wonderful team, and it fills me with pride to know that we come from the same city. It was an incredible feeling standing on the field, asking McKinney High School to be part of an alliance.”
With that in mind, it’s hard to deny that, for a group of students who design cold, utilitarian machines, the members of the McKinney High School Robotics Team have got a lot of heart.