525 Swartdogs qualify for World Championship

The 525 Swartdogs qualified for the World Championship robotics competition. It will be streamed live on April 25 and 26 from Detroit.

In the 1998-1999 school year, then-Cedar Falls High School physics teacher and current S.T.E.M Facilitator Kenton Swartley received a VHS tape in the mail. Swartley played the tape for the last five minutes of his class. 

The video was an informational piece about robotics. A group of students got really excited and asked if they could start a robotics team. “I said, ‘Sure, just line up some mentors and engineers to help us and raise some money to compete.’ I was not expecting for it to work for us as well as it has,” Swartley said. 

Twenty-one years later, the “525 Swartdogs” robotics team has received many awards and attended many competitions across the nation, even traveling to China in 2014, 2015 and 2016. This year on March 23-25, the 525 Swartdogs competed and won the Regional FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) meet in Duluth, Minn., qualifying them for the World Championships in Detroit on April 25 and 26. The 525 Swartdogs qualified for a second time the next weekend. “We qualified in two ways. When we went to Regionals in Duluth, Minn., and won with our robot and qualified for worlds. Then, this past weekend we qualified because we got the Chairman’s award. Basically it’s the top award that a team can receive at any competition in FRC. It is even better than winning with a robot because it is so prestigious,” 525 Swartdogs co-captain Megan Pezley said.  

The Chairman’s Award takes hours of time dedicated to writing and creating content that proves what good things a robotics team has done in their area. Pezley headed the Chairman’s Award team. 

“It is all about how you inspire the community, state and the world. We specifically got it because it is a whole process of writing essays, mini-essays, presentations to describe why your team deserves this award. We went to China for a competition there, we run the competition where we are at and have started a lot of teams in Iowa,” she said. 

Out of the 26 teams in Iowa, the 525 Swartdogs have helped kickoff 11 of them, making them a team in Iowa that has set an example for many others by winning the Chairman’s Award this year. 

“We are really popular in Iowa because so many teams were were started by us. We got it when I was a freshman, but we have not gotten it again since this year,” Pezley said. 

Even though the Swartdogs do not have as much competition in Iowa, at the World Championships they will have many teams on the same level as them. 

“It will be a lot different than our regional event. The three teams on the winning alliance qualify for championships. Out of 400 teams there, there will be about 200 or so that have won regionals just like us. There will be about 200 teams that are on our same field. It is probably a bigger honor than winning the regional,” Swartley said. 

This year, the 525 Swartdogs robot has three main features of what it can do for the “game” and challenge this season on the robotics field at competitions. The challenge this year is space-themed.

“[Our robot] takes cargo, which is basically playground balls, and it can put them in the rocket in the cargo ship. Then we have hatch panels that are basically these discs that we can put onto the rocket or cargo ship, and we can do any levels for that. Personally, what I think is the coolest about the robot is that it can climb. It has a little foot that comes out of it, and it extends forward so it can climb,” Pezley said.  

Swartley has seen the progression of the advancement of the robots being built for FRC competitions, as well as for the Swartdogs’ robots each year. 

“The ones we are building now look a lot different. There are more sensors and cameras. This year there are cameras that the drivers use to drive while looking at a feed on a computer rather than looking at the robot itself,” he said. 

Swartley recognizes the progression of the Swartdogs to get to their current status. 

“I can remember way back when we were a new team and would see teams that were around for longer than us. We would think, ‘Oh wow, they are amazing. I am kind of jealous of them,’ and ‘Boy, I wish we could beat them in a match.’ They were targets for us to beat them, and now that is us. Teams come to events and they say, ‘Oh, we want to beat the Swartdogs,’ so it is a bit of a challenge, but also is nice to be recognized,” Swartley said. 

Pezley is appreciative of her three years of experience with the Swartdogs.

“I have grown up seeing the Swartdogs and seeing how accomplished they were, so it was something that I kind of took for granted. I did not realize how lucky we are to have to be on such a good team and have all of the resources and great mentors,” Pezley said. “We are very lucky.”

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