Team 525 reflects on season after hosting event

New coach Julie Kirkpatrick has stepped up to the plate to take over the role of now retired robotics coach Kenton Swartley. As the season has progressed there have been multiple themes that have changed. Kirkpatrick said, “The themes are always fun. This year’s theme was CHARGED UP and was about energy. There have been themes about Star Wars, recycling, medieval times and even basketball.” 

Kirkpatrick said these common objectives have brought the team together. “Our team spends a lot of time at our build site creating and testing parts to complete our robot. Each challenge had to be dealt with quickly due to the tight timeframe of the season. We’re lucky to have awesome students and mentors who work incredibly hard to prevent obstacles in the first place and will also come up with fixes to whatever problems we do run into.”

The most recent meet that the Swartdogs competed in was hosted at the McLeod Center for all the teams competing in the meet. “We competed at two different events, both with just under 60 teams each. We provide a practice field for all teams to use and set up pit areas before the event starts. During the event, we lead tours for all fourth graders in the district so they can learn about robotics. We also have a lot of former team members come back to Cedar Falls from all over the country to volunteer for the event. The Iowa Regional took place in the McLeod Center and UNI Dome. The field was in the McLeod Center, and team pits and practice field was hosted in the Dome.”

At the event, Kirkpatrick said, “We have just under 40 student members and 15 adult mentors. We placed in the third place alliance for the Iowa Regional. We also won the Creativity Award for a very original design of our robot. We also placed third at the Northern Lights Regional in the first weekend of March. While we didn’t qualify as a whole team for the World Championships, we have a small group of students heading down to Houston on April 18 – 21 to present on how to have a PreK-12 robotics program like we have here in Cedar Falls.”

In her new role, Kirkpatrick said she has many roles. “As head coach, I do a lot of the administrative work: sending emails, paying invoices, etc. A lot of boring stuff, but I also helped the team stay on a timeline for the build, programming and presentation development. My favorite thing that I did this season was help encourage students and lead cheers in the stands.”

Senior Sean Radke has participated in robotics since his freshman year. “The past three years of robotics have been shooting games. This year was a pick and placing game. Each year it takes roughly six-eigjt weeks to build our robot from scratch. That means we get the game, work through design decisions, design, build, program, test and then compete with the robot.”

Now as Radke is a senior he said, “Challenges take time to overcome. The majority of our challenges we had this year were with wiring. Designs take time to complete, and prototyping/testing takes time. We had to keep redesigning sections of wiring on our robot as they failed, but it worked in the end.”

Radke also said, “At each event there are roughly 50-60 teams competing. At the World Championships that we attended last year, there were over 300. This year we did not qualify for the World Championships. Each regional competition is a competition designed into multiple days where teams are randomized and play against each other in 3v3 style matches. One and a half days of this, the top ranked teams choose their alliances and compete in the finals to win a spot to go to the World Championships in Houston, Tx.” 

Though they missed the World Championship, Radke said, “This year, we had a great team engagement with just under 40 members on the team. The team this year lost in the very last round before the finals at both their competitions. We made it to the 7-9th place position.”

With the season being almost over, Radke said, “We don’t have any more competitions this year that would get us anywhere. We do have off-season events we go to as a way to get other students the experience and fun that robotics brings in a shorter event. As a team we helped setup and tear down portions of the event. Additionally, I personally worked with the volunteers to help load-in all 56 teams into the building with them.”

All in all, Radke said that his experience with robotics has been one that he won’t forget. “I have learned a huge amount of skills through my years at robotics,” he said. “Starting from next to nothing, students including myself have been taught how to use hand tools, power tools and all sorts of other machines. They use these skills alongside new design skills to create an awesome robot. Students learn how to assemble, wire and test these robots to their extremes. One of the biggest challenges I already said above was wiring. A very non-unique challenge we have every year is managing our time and scope so that we don’t take too long to build our robots. Everything has to be fast paced and always moving. If we don’t meet one deadline, everything has to shift and we don’t have a robot to compete with.”

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