Gearing Up

CHS robotics club wired for semi-state

Nick Wilson/Journal Review Video

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Members of the Crawfordsville High School robotics club have been busy tweaking designs and practicing presentations as they prepare for the First Tech Challenge Indiana semi-state competition set for Feb. 29.

Gearing up for the super-qualifying, semi-state contest, held this year at Lafayette’s Tecumseh Junior High, Crawfordsville students have set their sites north in anticipation, hoping they can make it to the state championship round at CHS next month.

The club is comprised of three teams: Radical Change, a team of first-year members learning the basics; BotMan, an intermediate-level team; and TOBOR, a varsity-like team made up of the school’s top programmers, builders and 3D modelers.

“If we do well, we’ll qualify for the state championship,” said Luka Mikek, head programmer. “If we do well enough at the state championship, we’ll qualify for the ‘world’s’ championship.”

TOBOR (the word “robot” spelled backward), has made it to the semi-state level after competing in a series of league and other qualifying events sponsored by FTC. Most recently, TOBOR earned the design award and was named to the Finalist Alliance after a meet at Owen Valley High School on Feb. 1.

Robotics courses at Indiana high schools have grown in popularity among students through the last decade. Mimicking television’s fighting robots, the mechanics designed at the high school level are, relatively, more reserved.

Though they are similar in size and look, high school robots are designed for functionality, not fighting.

“How many people get to say they built and programmed a real robot,” engineering and computer science instructor Darrin Wilcoxson asked. “Students learn how to use sophisticated software to 3D model the robot before ever building it.”

Wilcoxson has lead his teams to victory before. Teaching technological courses at CHS since 2007, his teams have been named to the Finalist Alliance in two of the last four years.

The current team, which fluctuates from year to year — a stark contrast to other high school teams — is made up of Mikek, Tayden Morgan, Ian Conkright, Mariel Oshel, Evie Redding and Gwyn Redding.

The Reddings are sisters and Mikek and Morgan are following in the footsteps of their older brothers who also took part in the CHS robotics program.

But interest in the club has more than family members to credit.

“When I started teaching at CHS in 2007, I found students not participating in school activities, whether it was sports, clubs or just socially,” Wilcoxson said. “(Most) said they didn’t find anything interesting to them.”

That is when Wilcoxson asked students to take a look at a program called For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

“Several of them were interested in it and we began to build our first robot in October of 2007,” he said. “The school and corporation have been great supporters of the program, providing students to earn a varsity letter as well as having full-time coaches.

“Now we have robotics teams in the middle school and elementary schools, too.”

Several members of TOBOR took interest in the program offered at the former Tuttle Middle School.

“This is my third year ... but I did robotics in middle school too,” Evie Redding said. “I do a little bit of everything. I build and I’m trying to learn programming. I also work with some of the technical graphics, outreach and promotional stuff.”

In addition to the technical aspects, members have taken it upon themselves to come up with their own “brand.” Social media platforms, free-admission events and even an upcoming open house make up just a fraction of the plans the teams has in store.

“I do a lot of outreach and building, and I’m part of our drive team,” Gwyn Redding said. “When I first joined, I really liked the building aspect of it. I still enjoy that but I’ve grown to be a people-person.

“I’ve never thought I was a people-person before, but the outreach events are my favorite part now,” she added. “I really love going out and interacting with the community.”

Gwyn Redding manages the social media platforms for the group. Though a Facebook page is still in the works, the team can be found on Instagram (tobor_535), Twitter (@535tobor) and YouTube (tobor535).

The club’s open house is set for March 7 at the high school as an all-day event. Admission will be free, but a suggested donation of $20 will be available.

“At the event all of our teams will be there to help kids drive robots and run team-building challenges and talk to them about what we do as a team. We’ll have mazes for the kids to drive through, because we have little demo bots and those kinds of things,” Gwyn Redding said. “We’ll also have snacks available and it will have a suggested donation fee of $20 per family, and if they do they’ll get a plushie (a stuffed animal).

“We not only want to raise funds to continue our team, we want the community to know more about us.”

To learn more about the Crawfordsville robotics club and its many activities, visit its Twitter, Instagram or YouTube pages, and check back for a Facebook page soon. The high school can also be contacted for more information at 765-362-2340.

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