While the Helena robotics team may not have won the FIRST Tech Challenge world championship, another school from Montana did.

Ronan High School won the FTC division of the FIRST World Championships held last weekend in St. Louis.

It was the first time competing for the team from the Class A school about 60 miles north of Missoula. Coach Jesse Gray said he couldn’t have anticipated how well the team of seven would do. The goal six years ago when he started the program was to someday reach the championships. Gray admitted that doing so well caught him and his team by surprise.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” Gray said. “We figured we would go in there and do OK.”

There were four divisions at worlds: the Junior First Lego League is for young people ages 6-9, and teams construct models with moving parts; the First LEGO League is the next age group (9-16); the FIRST Robotics Competition is for high school students who built large robots in six weeks using parts from a common kit and are tested in autonomous performances as well as tele-operated matches.

Ronan and Helena were in the FTC division, in which teams designed and built smaller robots; Helena’s was 28 pounds. Teams had several ways to score points, mainly removing 6-inch-long PVC tubes from dispensers and placing them into stationary or rolling goals. There were three playing fields with four robots — two per team or alliance — moving at the same time trying to score points while being defensive to prevent the other team from scoring.

Helena robotics coach John Miller said he’s pleased to see a team from the Treasure State perform so well at the world competition.

“Certainly we’d like to have brought home some hardware, but it’s nice to know we in Montana can compete on a worldwide level,” he said. “We graded on how the kids felt after we got back, and they felt great and learned a ton. It was an experience of a lifetime.”

Miller said the students are still fired up over the trip and are already working away on another robot in class.

As the Helena team reflected on the three-day competition featuring 128 robotics teams from around the globe, they decided their robot could have been simpler.

Capital High School senior Forrest Arnold had four arms for scoring points and playing defense, and in retrospect, it may have been better to only have two or three.

Helena High’s Mark Sargent said the Helena team got lucky and qualified through an alliance, which Ronan was part of, at the state competition, but faced repeated technical difficulties at the worlds that they eventually identified as a coding issue.

What was Helena’s downfall just may have been what helped Ronan be so successful.

Gray said the size of robot was near perfect and the speed was superb.

“We had a super simple machine and we were quick,” he said. “We could move anywhere on the floor — over ramps, bridges, and nobody could stop us from going anywhere.”

The Ronan team rode on a Ronan Fire Department Fire Truck escorted by police in a special parade though town, and a pep assembly on Monday celebrated its success.

While Helena team member Abby Montgomery can’t deny her disappointment in losing, she says the team won from the life experiences gained by going.

“Being from Montana and competing in a world competition is tough,” the CHS senior said Wednesday. “Kudos to Ronan for coming from an even smaller town and crushing the odds — hanging in with the competition is one thing, but beating those teams is a whole different level. I’m proud of Montana.”

Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or alana.listoe@helenair.com

(7) comments


The headline said Ronan, the article mostly talks about Helena again. Nice to hear about locals, but maybe change the headline. Also, do a real article on the winning team?


Way to go Ronan, good job. What happened to Helena schools Mr Miller? What do you have to say about it? We have to get America Right.


What an awesome story! Those kids must have had an absolute blast. Really proud of you Ronan.

Steeline - for the love of god. Its a high school robotics contest.. Can you give it a rest with your... whatever it is. on and on and on. We get it.



Have you ever coached a robotics team or worked with the dynamics of technology? It takes hundreds of hours -thousands since we have been doing this for seven years (ALL VOLUNTEER) from teachers, mentors, students, and parents. Technology is not something that is a quick-fix if something goes wrong. Sometimes, we have 15 minutes to an hour between matches to fix a burned-out motor or re-program the entire autonomous program. Sometimes, even the officials cannot identify the technological issue, and robots cannot compete.

If you ask ANYONE who has been to these robotics competitions, they will tell you that the weekend is filled with trials and tribulations, and "Murphy's Law" follows them. It's part of the competition and real-life problem solving that the students and mentors experience. Any success that is consistent is a God-send. By the way, we have had several (consistent successes), or we would not have gone to the World Championships!

The Helena Robotics team QUALIFIED and competed in a World Championship competition. They represented themselves well for their schools (CHS and HHS), and their robot scored the points in several matches when their alliance teams did not.

We have competed this year in several robotics competitions and at our Regional Competition in Bozeman, we competed with four teams including a middle school team representing BOTH middle schools in Helena. Two of our teams received first and second, and the others either won awards or were finalists for the many awards at regionals.

Here is what we have to say:

These students are exposed to real-life learning experiences that will prepare them for college, their futures, and for life. The skills they learn are innumerable from engineering, math, programming, communication, teamwork, technical writing... the list goes on. Each of our seniors have chosen a college major in science and/or engineering. FIRST offers over $14 Million in scholarships for these kids. They have memories and education that no one can EVER take from them; they will use their experiences for the rest of their life.

As far as hardware, how long does it last? It is placed in a box or trophy case somewhere and sits there.

Learning, real-life experiences,friendships, and skills developed and used will last a life time.

So, what do you have to say about that?

If you think something is wrong with America, instead of complaining about it, DO SOMETHING. We do something every day to change the lives of our children, our future leaders.

Assistant Mentor, Helena Robotics Team


Holy Cats...the WORLD title? Wonderful kids, bravo, brava!


kidfan68 said: "Steeline, Have you ever coached a robotics team or worked with the dynamics of technology?....If you think something is wrong with America, instead of complaining about it, DO SOMETHING. We do something every day to change the lives of our children, our future leaders."

We have to get Steeline Right.


Thanks Curmudgeon. Ronan DID do an amazing job! It's a tough competition, and they came out on top. Congratulations!

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