Miracle on Wheels: Swartdogs win big in Kansas City, earn spot at Nationals in Atlanta


The Swartdogs, Team 525 earned a top spot in the Atlanta Championship last Friday and Saturday after it won the regional FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics competition in Kansas City. The team was led by physics teacher Kenton Swartley.

Every year, the team builds a robot to perform different tasks in a kind of game, competing in two minute 15 second matches. This year the game was Breakaway, in which the six teams, divided into two alliances, maneuvered over bumps and through tunnels to move soccer balls to their sides of the field and into goals. They received bonus points if the robot could do things like hang off towers in the center of the bumps or hang off other robots.

The team encountered challenges along the way, however. After their first few matches, they noticed a communication error between their robot and the driver station. It appeared to the judges that they could communicate with their robot, but that was not the case. “We were so upset when it happened in three matches in a row,” junior robotics member Emily Hurban said. “Mid-day Friday we were the first seeded team, but by the end of Friday’s competition, after three matches of not functioning, we had slipped to eighth.”

However, programming mentor Neil Krumpel along with student members were busy pouring over their code to find any sources of error. Eventually junior Chris Guetzlaff figured out a possible solution to the problem and worked with the rest of the drive team, Ashley Brown, Dan Harter and Emily Hurban to implement it.

When the team went through the new process in its second match on Saturday, it was excited to see that it worked. The crowd was also extremely supportive. “The noise level was unbelievable. We had no idea that this many people wanted our team to do well,” Hurban said.

The rest of that match was extremely successful, and the team moved from eighth to fourth place. During alliance picks, the team was picked by the first-seeded team, putting them in the quarterfinals.

“We were ecstatic,” Hurban said.

From there, the team moved up to semifinals, which they also won. (For this they got to spray Swartley’s hair orange.)

The finals were suspenseful because they lost the first match but won the second. They needed to win two out of three matches, so it was anyone’s game. Team 525’s alliance ended up winning the final match, and therefore Regionals, by bonus points for their robot hanging.

The team was incredibly surprised to find it had earned a place at the Atlanta Championship. The team even agreed on the bus ride home that only when they all woke up on the next day and saw their medals, they would actually believe it had happened.

All of the team members worked extremely hard all season to build the robot. But they felt what mattered most was not whether they won or lost; they were just proud to be competing.

Team 525 has its second Regional in Minnesota, which is from March 31 to April 3. The Championships in Atlanta are from April 14 to 17.

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