In a contest that was part March Madness, part science fiction and part Survivor, the robotics team of McKinney High School was the ace of the rookie class at the recent Dallas Regional FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). During three days of competition, they earned the All-Star Rookie Award and a bid at the FRC Championship in St. Louis this April.
From March 29-31, the Lion Kings pitted their machine against 42 other teams on a specially designed court at the Dallas Convention Center. The objective: maneuver their robot to score points by shooting basketballs through four hoops.
On the path to success, not everything went according to plan. During inspection, the team found a problem that might have ended their hopes early. After an hour and a half of trouble-shooting, an electronic component was replaced. “We were good to go,” said Pam McBride, coach of the MHS robotics team. Later, an appendage that would allow the MHS robot to maneuver effectively on the court broke down; in spite of the team’s efforts, it could not be revived. Undaunted, they pressed on.
When the time came to form all-important alliances for the finals, the Lion Kings found themselves on the outside looking in. “The top eight teams each choose two teams to form their alliances for the final elimination matches,” said McBride. “We had briefly discussed scouting the other teams so we would know which teams were best at shooting and balancing, but we really didn’t expect to be in the top eight.” The MHS team was just shy of that mark in 9th place, hoping to be picked up by a strong alliance. “We weren’t in the top eight but were chosen by another team to join their alliance, so we were able to compete in the final elimination matches,” McBride said.
After the final buzzer sounded, MHS found themselves at the top of the rookie rankings and 16th overall — good enough to qualify for the FRC Championship in St. Louis on April 25-28. It was the gratifying culmination of more than six weeks of hard work. “As our number was announced, we were all jumping and screaming. We are still smiling,” said McBride.
The next big challenge is coming up with the $15,000 it will take to compete at the national event. McKinney ISD has agreed to cover half of the cost, leaving $7,500 for the team to raise. “We had a strategy meeting today with our mentors and discussed finding additional sponsors,” said McBride. “Besides the event registration fee, transportation, lodging and meals, we discovered we need more batteries, several backup electronic components — and then there are the parts we need to purchase to make the modifications we have planned.”
McBride said that the team’s build captain is already designing modifications, confident that they will find the remaining financial support that they need. But, those modifications will have to be added at the championship; the Lion Kings’ robot must be shipped to St. Louis in a few days per competition rules.
In a show of district unity, the team from McKinney Boyd High School, who earned the Industrial Design Award at FRC, and the team from McKinney North High School have offered to let the Lion Kings practice driving their robots to prepare for the championship. They’ve also made available any spare parts that might benefit the cause.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) hosts regional and national FIRST Robotics Competition events that attract thousands of competitors each year. Described on their website as “the varsity sport for the mind,” the FIRST Robotics Competition “combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology.”
For the competitors from McKinney High School, the experience has been worth all the hard work. “This is one of the only reasons I am glad I’m a freshman — because I get to do this again next year,” said team builder Deyton Truitt.
McKinney High School junior Kristin Ross said, “I wish I was a freshman so I would have three more years, but I’m glad I have another year.”
The McKinney High School Lion Kings robotics team is made up of Rahat Ahmed, Mark Blacklock, Meredith Eiland, Regan Elder, Jacob Essy, Josh Freedman, Julia French, Jared McKlemurry, Scott Medeiros, Zac Newman, Christian Prieto, Kristin Ross, Cameron Runnels, Deyton Truitt, David Westfield and Riley Whitten.
The Lion Kings are taking what they’ve learned and laying the foundation for a strong, ongoing robotics program at their school for years to come. “We are offering robotic camps through MISD Summer Camps this summer to elementary students, and we hope to be able to mentor a Junior FIRST Lego League Team at one of our district elementary schools,” said McBride. “There are already several students at MHS who have expressed interest in joining the team next year, and we plan to show off our robot to district middle schools to interest them, too.”
Picture captions: At top, Members of the McKinney High School robotics team make adjustments between matches at the Dallas Regional FRC. Above right, The McKinney High School robotics team visits with one of the judges at the Dallas Regional FRC.