Niles robotics team qualifies for international event

Team Excel, of Niles, has qualified for the FIRST Robotics international championship next week in St. Louis, Mo.  Special to the Star/DANIEL ERNST

Team Excel, of Niles, has qualified for the FIRST Robotics international championship next week in St. Louis, Mo.
Special to the Star/DANIEL ERNST

If a group of teenagers knocks on your door this weekend asking for money to fund a trip to Missouri with their robot — it’s not a scam.

The Niles-based student robotics team — Team Excel — needs financial support to get to the FIRST Robotics International Championship in St. Louis, which  members qualified for based on their performance at state April 11-13 in Ypsilanti.

The entry fee is $5,000, which doesn’t include the estimated $12,000 the team needs for travel expenses. The team is composed of about a dozen high school-age students from the greater Niles area.

Mike Stewart, Team Excel mentor, said you won’t just be funding the trip, you’ll be funding the team members’ futures. Since forming Team Excel five years ago, several team members have used their mechanical and engineering experience to land high-tech jobs at companies such as Whirlpool and Eagle Technologies.

“We have a lot of connections with high-tech manufacturing, and they look to our robotics teams to find the qualified kids to work for them,” he said. “Our kids learn to be on a team, they learn to win, build, program and compete in a short period of time, which is all real-life situations.”

Team Excel won two events this season in Traverse City and Niles, allowing them to qualify for last week’s state championship. The team made it to the quarterfinal round of the state competition and earned enough points to move onto the international championship, to be held April 23-26. This year, teams compete by building a robot capable of shooting discs through slots on either side of a large playing surface.

It is the team’s third year in a row to qualify for the international championship, although they didn’t have the funding to make the trip two years ago.

Stewart said their goal is to raise $3,000 this weekend.

Team Excel is the No. 10-ranked team internationally.

“Our goal is to be one of the premier teams in FIRST, and I think we’ve met that goal,” he said. “We’ve got a system set up, but now it’s a matter of funding.”

With many senior team members graduating this year, Team Excel is looking for new members.

Anyone interested in joining the team or supporting the team’s trip should contact Stewart at (269) 683-1662.

Stewart thanked Whirlpool, TCU in Niles and Delta Machining in Niles for their support.


Meet Team Excel


Sam Burck,  programmer, scout

Jared Couture, programmer, scout

Connor Miller, build team, driver

Adam Mitchell, build team, drive coach

Lisa Rensberger, head scout, alliance captain

Matthew Sergio, build team, driver

Aaron Smithberger, build team, drive team’s human player

Grace Smithberger, build team, scout

Mark Smithberger, build team

Rachel Smithberger, build team, scout

Joshua Twiddy, programmer, scout

Coaches are: Rick Miller, Mike Stewart, Joe Shaw and Kayla Shaw.


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