East Kentwood High School host district robotics competition

GRAND RAPIDS — “Power Up” is a term synonymous with video games from the 1980s that reminds people of Pacman and Super Mario Brothers. It’s also the theme for this year’s FIRST Robotics competition, which currently is in the midst of hosting several district-level robotics competitions throughout the state.

This past weekend, several area robotics teams competed in a district competition at East Kentwood High School.

“There are 40 teams here from all over the state,” said Jess Ayres, the robotics coach at Ross Beatty Jr.-Sr. High School. “Michigan has by far the most robotics teams of anywhere in the world, so competing here is like competing in the NBA of robotics.”

Area teams competing in this event included were team 5069, the Iron Giants out of Edwardsburg; team 2474, Excel, out of Niles; team 4325, the RoboRangers, out of Cassopolis; team 4409, Ground Zero, out of Niles and team 5056, MegaHurtz Robotics, out of Buchanan.

Each high school robotics team in the state of Michigan competes in two district robotic events, and their total combined points from each match determines who advances to the state competition at Saginaw Valley State University.

This was the last district event for most of the teams competing. While this may sound simple enough, the actual scoring system for the statewide competition is quite complicated.

“It’s overall rankings and it’s such a complicated formula,” Ayres said. “There’s no way to simplify it. You compete in two competitions and the state ranks teams and the top 160 go on to state out of 500 and some.”

Over the course of the event, which lasts from Thursday night through Saturday, each team competed in a minimum of 15 matches, with Saturday concluding with playoff matches to determine the winner.

During each event, there are a variety of ways to score.

“There are basically three scales on the field, two of them are low and they call them switches,” Ayres said. “They balance either for the red or blue side, and so you place the cubes on those scales and if they are balanced in your direction you get points for that. On the high scale that’s in the middle, you get more points, of course. Then at the end of the match, in the last 30 seconds, you can climb [a tower] and every robot that climbs gets you another 30 points, so if you can carry another robot with you that gets you bonus points.”

In terms of overall points, both Excel and Ground Zero out of Niles finished with 37 points, good for eighth and ninth place in the competition. The RoboRangers out of Cassopolis finished with 30 points, good for 14th place. MegaHurtz Robotics out of Buchanan finished with 24 points, good for 20th place and the Iron Giants out of Edwardsburg finished with 22 points, good for 23rd place.

After the final district events that will take place this upcoming weekend, teams will know whether or not they advanced to state. However, participants say robotics is about much more than just competing.

“There is nothing like robotics,” said Katie Mcanarney, a junior at Edwardsburg. “Robotics is the only thing that the high school offers that is science and engineering and competing. It gives us a unique opportunity. You’re not going to find an environment like this anywhere else. Every team helps every team be the best that we can. We’re creating tomorrow’s future now. It’s unique in that we all work together to make everything better.”

Also, while robotics does cater to those interested in math and science, there is a place for students with other interests and skills.

“I think it does even more than just the engineering side,” said Jo Duke, an Edwardsburg parent who was at the event. “It teaches kids about marketing, it teaches kids organizational skills, it teaches them how to speak in public. How to communicate. It teaches them how to fundraise. It’s a really well-rounded program that I think is great that the school has supported. I’d love to see them to continue to support it.”

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