Robotics team competes at national competition


The Robotics team poses for a photo after winning the Chairman’s Award at the state competition. Photo contributed

Gourav Pany, Staff Writer

The fall of a feather would be enough to disturb the silence in the Innovation Center as eager students look forward to an announcement that could change their lives. The live stream buffers as the announcement of the Chairman’s Award winner progresses, which produces a frustrated groan from the audience. The video resumes and the announcement is made. The Red Alert Robotics team erupts with unbridled excitement with the news that they will be traveling to the FIRST World Championship in Houston, Texas.

The robotics team was originally set to receive word of their qualification for the World Championship in the FIRST State Championship, but the announcements for the Chairman’s Award, the most prestigious award in the competition, was moved up to April 4 in order to let teams prepare for the short turnaround the the World Championship.

“When we learned about the announcement that we had won, I was not able to be with our team. I had a prior commitment and was watching the live stream like a hawk. I was sitting there and I heard that we had [won] and I started crying. The announcement made me feel amazing because I knew that my hard work had paid off. I helped write the essay for the award and I was one of the presenters so to be able to go to Worlds as a freshman really makes my whole robotics experience so much better,” freshman Sarah Hendrix said.

The game for this year’s competition is Rapid React. The main objective is for robots to shoot balls into an upper and lower hub in order to gain points, along with climbing on rungs to net additional points for their alliance. Alliances are decided randomly throughout qualification matches.

“Alliances are basically just a team of three robots. These alliances work together to score as many points as possible and beat the enemy alliance. Working together is crucial in order to win, so many teams get together with their alliance partners and discuss strategies that could help them win,” junior Siddhartha Chhettry said.

In contrast to the qualification matches, playoff matches have a different atmosphere, as the top teams pick their alliance partners, which requires strategy and an understanding of other teams’ strengths and weaknesses.

“The whole alliance selection process is pretty simple. The top eight teams get to be the alliance captains and pick other alliance partners. The first place team chooses first and it goes down to the eighth. Then it loops around, so the eighth place team gets to pick their third alliance partner first while the first place team picks theirs last. If, for example, the first place team picks the second place team as an alliance partner, then the ninth place team moves up into alliance selection,” Chhettry said.

“Alliance selections are done where the top eight or so teams choose two other teams to be in their alliance. The teams that get picked can either decline or accept. However, if you aren’t an alliance captain, and you decline, you cannot be picked by another team unless you yourself become an alliance captain. From then on, you play best-of-three games in a bracket style until you decide a winner in the finals,” Hendrix said.

However, along with the bracket-style format competitions, winning with the robot is not the only part of robotics. The Chairman’s Award, which the team won at state, celebrates teams striving for excellence on and off the field. It is one of few awards that can automatically qualify a team for the world championship.

“This award is the most prestigious we can win in FIRST. It’s all about spreading robotics and STEAM in our community in any way possible, and doing outreach and community service consistently. It’s about inspiring younger generations, helping in any way possible,” junior Brinna Porat, the operations captain, said.

The team’s hard work and dedication has been on full display throughout the year with their participation and heavy involvement in the community and earned the nickname “Crossroads of FIRST,” a name that symbolizes their collaboration with other teams and the community.

“We support teams both in our middle and elementary school here in Center Grove and other teams across the world. We complete special projects like sensory boards for the developmental preschool, and a fitness app. We partner with an IndyCar driver, and do robot demos across Indiana, even showing our team off at the State House. We do so much more than robots, and that is what this award is all about, and we are so honored to win this on a district and state level, being the representative for Indiana at a global competition,” Porat said.

Going to the World Championship is an honor, especially for people like junior engineering captain Grant Embrey, who was a freshman when COVID-19 canceled the 2020 World Championship.

“Worlds is special because it represents the ability to show off what we have worked for on a greater scale. This also usually only happens one or twice in high school and we weren’t able to go after qualifying in 2020. I’m excited to meet a lot of teams from all around the world and I think I’ll make a lot of special memories,” Embrey said.

The team’s qualification for the world championship is a culmination of a long journey for seniors, like senior Elijah Leser, the executive captain of the team.

“With this being my senior year, this is just about the best way I could have imagined to end my involvement as a student in FIRST. I am so proud of everyone on the team. We have a lot of rookies this year and seeing them get excited and involved not just with the engineering, but also the outreach and the community side of things, is absolutely amazing,” Leser said. “With everything that has happened along the road this year, and all of the skills everyone has developed, I am [really] excited to see how Red Alert will do in the coming years. I am so proud of everything we have accomplished over the last few months.”

This long journey has also been sentimental for senior Stephen Reeves, the SPEC (Strategy, Programming, Electronics, Controls) captain of the team.

“It feels amazing to be able to go to the world championship this year. I’ve put in a lot of hard work in the team over the past four years and it’s awesome to see it pay off. I’m excited to compete on such a scale for my last year on the team,” Reeves said.

While the world championship is emotional for many team members, the team has had to turn around from its successful district events. These events include their triumph in the Columbus district event, where they won the District Chairman’s Award that qualified them for state and were part of the winning alliance, both of which inspired confidence amongst team members.

“I feel like Red Alert has a good chance to win the Chairman’s Award [at Worlds]. We won this award at both our Columbus and state competitions, as well as past years. On the robot side, I think our matches will be played fairly well since we changed our robot from our last competition to better perform,” junior Kyle Upchurch said.

Despite the short turnaround, the spirit is high within the team.

“It is really exciting and it is such a unique opportunity. I never expected I’d make it [to Worlds]. I helped with outreach and [helped] write our chairman’s essay, so I’m just so excited to see where our team goes and what happens from here,” freshman Abigail Fain said.