Stacking up for Nationals

Numerous Millard West robotics teams participates in a statewide competition

Controlling and stacking up blocks with their robot, juniors Mike Nigrila, Mark Schaffer and senior Luke Hartman participate at VEX State Robotics Championship at Omaha North High School. Their competition was an overall success for Millard West's robotic teams. “Friday night was stressful, not knowing how the skills competition would pan out for us,” junior Mark Schaffer said, “We had no idea how many points we would make out with, and were a bit anxious.”

photo courtesy of Janie Meyer

Controlling and stacking up blocks with their robot, juniors Mike Nigrila, Mark Schaffer and senior Luke Hartman participate at VEX State Robotics Championship at Omaha North High School. Their competition was an overall success for Millard West's robotic teams. “Friday night was stressful, not knowing how the skills competition would pan out for us,” junior Mark Schaffer said, “We had no idea how many points we would make out with, and were a bit anxious.”

Jordan Bakar, Staff Reporter

On February 28th through February 29th, five different Millard West Robotics teams engaged in the VEX State Robotics Championship at Omaha North High School. The robotics tournament was named “Tower Takeover,” with the objective of stacking up as many blocks as possible before the clock runs out of time. 

This tournament included well over 19 different schools across the state of Nebraska and 48 distinctive teams, respectively, from all the schools that participated. 

Before this competition, the five Millard West “CatBotics” teams, which included a total of 17 Millard West students, have all spent an extensive amount of time during the whole school year preparing, creating, and testing the robots out for this event. In the last three weeks, the team members constantly came in before and after school numerous times throughout the week to ensure that everything was ready. 

“The nationwide championship went pretty favorably,” junior Mark Schaffer said. “We were in the top six teams that did exceptionally well throughout the competition. As a result, we received third place in the judges’ award, which meant that the judges felt that we had the 3rd best design out of the other 48 schools. It was also very nice to see all the teams, from other schools in our vicinity and area, coming together to compete.” 

Each team member had a specific role that they were responsible for. Some of these designated roles include: building the robot and making sure it is set-up correctly, making sure the robot moves to where it needs to be as being a driver or co-driver of the robot, and programming or writing the script for the robot to execute.

“I was mainly in charge of stacking up the cubes since I was the secondary driver,” junior Andrew Heftie said.” Tyler McCoid (senior teammate) was mainly driving the robot around, making sure it was the proper position and location at all times.”

With these competitions, the team members always need to be prepared to expect the unexpected. In one of the last few rounds, a Millard West robotics team experienced a conflict with another school, which rendered the team with a huge disadvantage. Tensions between the two teams sparked immensely.

“We had a little controversy in one of our matches,” senior Luke Hartman said. “Our robot was accidentally dragged by the Lincoln Southwest team in the semi-finals, which did not result in a disqualification for them. The head referee did not make any calls against the clash. We also were almost disqualified ourselves from the competition, when our robot’s arm extended past the boundary line, so the head referee did not want a double disqualification to occur as a result. Other than that, I was pretty happy with the turnout of this tournament, but bummed that we couldn’t advance past the semi-finals.”

Regardless of all the final adjustments and precautions, all the teams made, a Millard West robotics team, unfortunately, experienced a few issues with their robot and its mechanical mechanism. The process of making sure that everything plays out accurately is not an easy challenge to overcome.

“The balance mechanism of our robot became jammed in the middle of a round,” Heftie said. We couldn’t figure out the reason why it clogged up and conclusively blocked the robot from performing properly. Next time, We will make minor adjustments and replace a few components on the robot. Besides this issue we had, we finished as the number one seed (first place) in the CREATE event.”

With all of this in mind, the five different teams have all learned some beneficial lessons that they will not ignore for the Nationals competition.

“Since our outcome from this event went adequately positive for us, we probably won’t make any significant changes,” Schaffer said. There are a few areas of improvement that we need to take a closer look at, but overall, not too many.”

photo courtesy of Mark Schaffer
Posing with their robots and awards, juniors Mike Nigrila, Mark Schaffer, Brandon Swanson, senior Luke Hartman, and members of the Lincoln Southwest team (dressed in casual attire) are content with their outcome of the event. The team received trophies for advancing past the semifinals, qualifying for the world tournament, and the judges’ award. “A Lincoln Southwest robotics was in alliance with us for one of the events,” senior Luke Hartman said. “After the qualification round, there is a pairing up event, where we will pair up with another team.”

The Millard West CatBotics team members have been incredibly successful this year and the years past. For this reason, the Millard West CatBotics teams are all qualified for Nationals, which will take place at the Mid-America Center during the first week of April 2020.