Oak Harbor robotics team heads to nationals

Michael Uttmark, Garrett Parmenter and Payton Rollag discuss options for improve their robot’s intake and shooting method before the championship on April 23. - Photo by Michelle Beahm / Whidbey News-Times
Michael Uttmark, Garrett Parmenter and Payton Rollag discuss options for improve their robot’s intake and shooting method before the championship on April 23.
— image credit: Photo by Michelle Beahm / Whidbey News-Times

A team of students at Oak Harbor High School has a shot at becoming world-champion robot designers.

For the first time since Whidbey Island Wildcat Robotics team was formed six years ago, they are going to the FIRST Robotics world championship competition next week in St. Louis, Mo.

FIRST is a nonprofit organization that sponsors national robotics contests and other competitions aimed at getting young people interested in science.

The students design and build robots to compete against other robots. The objective in this year’s competition is to get balls through goals as many times as possible. The championship competition is a weekend-long tournament with 400 high school teams.

For the Wildcat Robotics team, their ticket to the world championship level was their Engineering Inspiration Award, according to the current student president of the team, Rachel Margraf.

The award from FIRST is given to teams with a commitment to the community. And it comes with the benefit of having NASA pay their championship registration fees.

According to their coach Che Edoga, the team needs to raise about $13,000 in order to be able to get to the championships.

Edoga said they’re about halfway to their goal.

“FIRST Washington, without batting an eye, gave us $3,000 to help us get there, and the school district, without batting an eye, gave us $4,000 to help us get there,” Edoga said.

For the rest of the money, it’s going to be parents writing checks, and as the students continue to raise funds even after the championship, the team’s booster club will be able to reimburse parents, he said.

But the team has other work to do.

The members need to build a shipping crate for their robot which can double as a toolbox and workstation in St. Louis, according to Edoga. They also want to modify their robot to make it more effective offensively.

The team’s robot excelled in defense, according to Garrett Parmenter, head of the computer assisted drawing department, which does the 3-D modeling of the various parts for the robot.

Now, though, they want to modify their ball pick-up method for the competition, which was too slow, according to Margraf.

Unlike many FIRST Robotics teams, the Wildcat team does not have a professional machine shop that will cut out all the parts they need. Parmenter said they’ve had to cut out and drill everything by hand. However, he said that the Anacortes robotics team, which is also going to the championships, agreed to fabricate the new parts they need based on the 3-D modeling they’ll prepare.

“I think we’re at a slight disadvantage compared to most teams,” Parmenter said, “but I think, if we try hard enough, which we do, we can make it.”

And they have.

According to Edoga, the first year of the Wildcat robotics team ended up losing “miserably,” but their team motto is “We don’t lose, we learn” and the focus has always been on improving next year.

“To have it finally pay off, where they’re getting somewhere in it and all of a sudden, it’s wow, we’re going to the world championships,” Edoga said.

But he and the team have no intention of stopping now.

“We want to go to the school board and say hey, we made it to the world championships and we want to keep being successful,” Edoga said. “We know the value of this program, and how can we get you guys to embrace it the way we have? And hopefully they will.”

Edoga said he wants there to be FIRST Lego League teams in the Oak Harbor elementary schools and FIRST Tech Challenge teams in the middle schools. He wants the robotics community to grow to encompass students in every school.

“It’s fun, it’s different, you’re not going to get an opportunity to do something else like this in this town,” Parmenter said. “So why not?”

Parmenter said the best part about being on the robotics team is that “it’s just different. It’s the future. It’s like living in a futuristic movie.”

“When you go to a competition, it’s not like a sporting competition where it’s like, our team win, our team win,” said Margraf.

“It’s really about helping us all succeed as professionals. FIRST talks a lot about gracious professionalism, and one of the things that we do to help promote that is help other teams out.”

With their recent success and the upcoming opportunity to compete in the world championships, the team is definitely looking to the future.


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