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 email@example.com