It began in 2009 as little more than a panel of sheet metal and a dream. Now, eight years later Ashland High School’s FIRST robotics team — aka Team 3024; aka My Favorite Team — has grown well beyond the infant stage to full on adolescence, which it demonstrated Saturday by capturing its first-ever district victory in Lake Oswego.
Its robot tasked with delivering gears, shooting “fuel” and climbing a rope, My Favorite Team formed an alliance with Team Mean Machine of Camas, Washington, and the Scalawags of Lebanon to obliterate another three-team alliance 310-160 in the final match and claim the Pacific Northwest Lake Oswego Event championship.
“It was particularly special for us because we didn’t just get picked as a first or a second pick; we were the alliance captains for it,” said senior Eryl Kenner, Team 3024’s technical captain and its only fourth-year member. “And we seeded fourth to be in that position. It’s a big deal for our team and it’s definitely a step in the direction that we want our team to go.”
The historic finish capped a three-day event that included 30 teams with a win that did not seem possible after Team 3024’s swerve drive inexplicably failed during the first match of the three-match final round. The poorly timed malfunction forced My Favorite Team to scramble during a six-minute reset period between matches, and when team members couldn’t identify the problem they decided, mostly out of desperation, to completely alter their strategy for the final two matches. To overcome the setback, My Favorite Team members opted to play defense and block opposing teams from Portland and Gladstone from completing tasks.
The improvisation worked to perfection as My Favorite Team’s alliance rolled to its most resounding victory of the finals in the tiebreaker. Along with the winner’s banner, Team 3024 also took home the Engineering Inspiration Award and received some individual recognition when administrative captain Claire Pryor became one of two students selected to compete at the district championships for the prestigious Dean’s List award.
“It was so exciting and a super incredible affirmation of what we’ve been doing here,” said Pryor, a junior, who has orchestrated most of the team’s volunteer efforts.
The Engineering Inspiration award celebrates “outstanding success in advancing respect and appreciation for engineering within a team’s school or organization and community.” My Favorite Team earned the award for its various community outreach efforts, including year-round work with ScienceWorks Hands On Museum, maintaining Scenic Park, mentoring children in the FIRST Lego League and taking its robot to nursing homes for demonstrations.
The idea in part, explained Pryor, is to introduce children to the exciting world of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education while they’re young and impressionable.
“Tons of studies have shown how important it is to get kids excited about science and technology from a very early age, and that’s critical for getting people into STEM fields,” she said. “So we do a robot day at Helman Elementary every year for kindergartners where they have a day going around to different stations learning about circuitry, Lego robotics, safety, and they get to play with our robot.”
What’s it like sharing their passion with a classroom full of kindergartners?
“It’s super fun,” Pryor said. “They are adorable.”
My Favorite Team — its name was chosen specifically to force event announcers to refer to 3024 as their favorite team — ended up placing second to Team Mean Machine in total points (70) in Lake Oswego and is ranked 18th out of 155 teams in the Pacific Northwest heading into the Pacific Northwest District Championship, which will be held today through Saturday in Cheney, Washington. That’s My Favorite Team’s highest ranking heading into the district championships (last year they were 22nd) and bodes well for its ultimate goal of advancing to the World Championship coming up April 19-22 in Houston, Texas.
The district championships will be live streamed — a link can be found at team3024.com — and links to video of Ashland’s recent victory are also available on its website.
As the technical captain, Kenner is responsible for making sure each of the four sub-team leads are staying on task with the systems for which they are responsible — climbing, chassis, fuel and gear. Once FIRST robotics releases the details of that year’s challenge, the teams have a few weeks to build a robot weighing no more than 120 pounds which can score the most points possible in the arena. This year, tasks included shooting fuel (wiffle balls) into tubes of varying heights, transporting gears to waiting team members and, inside the final minute, climbing a wall.
The higher you score in the initial rounds, the better chance you have of choosing your partners for the knockout rounds. Ashland’s fourth-place showing in the preliminary rounds afforded it the ability to select its alliance partners, which it picked based on advanced scouting led by Pryor.
My Favorite Team used Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) to build its robot digitally first, and manufactured some of its components, such as a pulley, with the school’s 3D printer, a technique that’s both faster and more accurate, explained Kenner.
During the competition, a two-person drive team is responsible for controlling each of the robots — one controls the movement and the other handles everything else, such as the fuel shooter. Kenner said My Favorite Team helped itself immensely right from the get-go by opting to forgo devising a complicated ball-shooting mechanism in order to focus on the challenges, which were simpler to solve and worth more points anyway.
“We had a flywheel last year,” he said, “but it was a pretty difficult design challenge, so (avoiding it) gave us time to get everything else working. That was a good strategy decision.”
Approximately the top 34 teams in the 63-team district championship will advance to the World Championships. Ashland, which boasts a roster of 31 (17 of whom took a bus to Cheney on Wednesday), has never qualified for worlds, but coach Paul Moen, a veteran film producer whose credits include "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," says this year’s event represents My Favorite Team’s best shot.
“Oh, by far,” he said.
— Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.