ROGERSVILLE — It’s not a world championship, but Cherokee High School’s robotics team is calling its recent sixth place finish in Knoxville a victory considering they arrived for the first day of the competition with about 30 pounds of loose parts.
The core of Cherokee’s Robotics Team, the Fellowship of the Springs, that went to the 2016 World Championships in St. Louis graduated last year, and 2018 co-captains Erin Forgety and Jay Amin told the Times News Wednesday those experienced teammates have been missed this year.
“It was challenging because one of our master fabricators had left, and our main programmer had left, so we lost a big chunk of our team,” Amin said. “But I think we did pretty good.”
The Times News contacted Springs coach Jeff Hobbs prior to the March 22-24 FIRST Robotics Smoky Mountains Regional competition in Knoxville about the possibility of doing a preview story about the team heading to the event.
At that point, Hobbs said the Springs’ robot was “in pieces” and he preferred to wait until after the competition before any press releases were made about the team.
When they arrived in Knoxville on March 22, team members didn’t even know if their robot was going to work. To rally and sixth out of 51 teams under those circumstances was an amazing accomplishment, Hobbs told the Times News Wednesday.
“We work pretty good in the clutch,” he said. “Under pressure we’ll throw something together and make it work.”
Hobbs added, “Thursday (March 22) is what’s called ‘Robot Rebuild Day,’ and you can bring 30 pounds’ worth of parts with you. We had some parts that we put together, and the first match (on March 23) was the first time the robot rolled. It took 3-4 matches to work the bugs out. We had programming issues, we had issues with the arm, but by the end of Robot Rebuild Day we had everything (repaired) — mechanically and programming.”
Every year FIRST Robotics, which sanctions the competitions, devises a universal competition scenario which includes a variety of specific challenges that the competitors must build their robots to complete.
This year it was picking up and placing boxes in three distinct locations, as well as climbing.
Historically the Springs have excelled in defense — preventing their opponents from scoring points — while focusing on the fastest way to score points for the team.
Although the Springs didn’t have a climbing apparatus on its robot, Forgety said they wisely picked an “alliance” team that was able to climb to work with in the three-on three “alliance” competitions.
“One of the loopholes that several teams had come up with and actually built was a robot that would flip the sides out and and two other robots climb on, and it would pick up all three robots,” Forgety said. “(Alliance team) Category 5 was one of the robots that did that, and one of the cool moments of the competition this year was we got a triple climb with Category 5. We climbed up on their side, and (their other alliance team) was on the other side, and they lifted us up right at the last moment.”
There are FIRST Robotics-sanctioned competitions like the Smoky Mountain Regional all over the world, and the winners, as well as a select few wild cards from each event, are invited to the FIRST Robotics World Championships usually held in May in St. Louis.
Going to St. Louis is the ultimate goal, which has happened only once for Cherokee — in 2016.
But, based on where the Cherokee team was on Robot Rebuild day, compared to where it finished two days later, Forgety said this year’s robot definitely earned its place in Cherokee robotics history.
“We did a lot on Thursday,” Forgety said. “It was like a 12-hour day. We had all the pieces and parts, and we’re like, we just got to put them together and get the program done, and we’re good. We were a little slow to start on Friday. It was the first time the robot had been on the field. We didn’t have much practice with how it drives, how it runs. Just to see the team that we started with on Friday and what we ended up with Saturday was completely different.”
She added, “We were very concerned. We thought we were going to be ranked really low. But coming into alliance selection, we were actually ranked ninth, and we're like, oh my God! To finish sixth under those circumstances was better than we could have hoped for.”
Although the Springs are losing Forgety and four-year team member Will Carpenter to graduation this year, several key team members will be returning in 2019 including: Jay Amin, a junior, who aside from being the lead programmer and co-captain was on the drive team; Cameron Seal, a junior who was the driver; Leanne Manis, who was scout team captain; Eduardo Aviles, who was on the pit crew; Jason Kojundic, who was safety team captain; Isabella Winegar, who was a safety team member; and Parker Housewright and Kush Patel, who were the human players required in this year’s game scenario.
The Fellowship of the Springs is coached by Jeff Hobbs, Dewey Ferguson and Cody Bean.