L.C. Bird High School’s robotics team won a divisional championship at an international competition in Detroit over the weekend, and ultimately placed fourth out of 408 teams at the FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, event.
Coach Steven Wagner attributed the RoboHawks’ success to a strategy.
“Their stellar performance resulted from the coach and drivers formulating a match strategy that was based on data collected from each prior match that characterized the other 67 teams’ performance and capabilities,” Wagner said, referring to the number of teams in their subdivision.
Formed at Chesterfield Tech Center in 1999, where it was originally known as El Diablo, the team moved to Bird in 2003.
The team has 33 students and 16 adult mentors and is led by team leader Jim Stenglein, who was a parent mentor for four years before taking over after Paul Elkovich retired.
Stenglein’s eldest son was a team member for four years and a team leader for the last two, and his youngest son was a leader for his first three years. He volunteers over 20 hours a week and said he does it because he enjoys working with students and values the program.
Every year, the RoboHawks build a new robot (this year’s robot is called Concussion), and they have just six weeks to build, design and test for upcoming competitions.
The 2019 challenge was Destination Deep Space, which involves three-team alliances competing against each other to load cargo into rockets.
This was the RoboHawks’ fourth time going to the world championship.
The team had a very good record in the district playoffs and district preliminaries, Wagner said.
Wagner is an engineering instructor at the school, and his students are involved with the robotics team.
Madasyn Weaver, a sophomore, is operator for buttons and chief image officer. She said Wagner told her about the team and she ended up liking it more than she thought she would.
Michael Yanoschak, a senior, is the team’s chief technology officer and one of its drivers. He has been a RoboHawks member for four years and joined after he saw the 2015 robot in the engineering center.
Wagner said the team also has good adult mentors who come together to help players troubleshoot and problem solve. He said robotics isn’t just about building a robot, but also camaraderie and learning how to work together.
“They learn leadership, they learn interaction, there’s a lot of strategy going on, a lot of planning, there’s a lot of statistics going on,” Wagner said.
William Bigger, a senior and team leader, said even though the team is student-driven and led, their mentors are a huge resource who guide and help with solutions.
Wagner said the team is probably the best at scouting and analyzing scouting data. They compile all their scouting data into a spreadsheet to identify opposing teams’ strengths and weaknesses in order to determine the best teams to align with for the championship playoffs.
“Usually the night before we go through all their databases and we make picks … last competition we had 10 teams lined up of the defense bots we wanted and if they got picked before us, cross them off, [and go to the] next one,” senior and head of strategy Sahil Patel said.
The FIRST Championship took place over three days.
“Somebody asked me in January if would we be traveling to worlds and districts, and I said, ‘I don’t think so,’ and they proved me wrong,” Wagner said. “We proved a lot of people wrong.”