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Ronan robotics teams to compete in state tournament

RONAN — The crowd will roar after every move on the field, and teenage emotions will soar in anticipation this weekend in Shroyer Gymnasium on the campus of Montana State University.

But it’s not your typical high school competition. 

This Friday and Saturday, the Ronan High School and Middle School Robotics teams will compete for first place against other robotics teams from all over the state. 

And in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Tech Challenge for high schools and Lego League for the middle schools, both teams are going for the gold. 

For the robotics teams, who have been preparing for the state competition since the beginning of the school year, the dream of obtaining first place is a tangible one. 

“We are planning on winning,” Ronan High School robotics adviser Jesse Gray said. He explained that the competitions are so intense that sometimes they are louder than Ronan High School basketball games. 

He said that this year his team has a feeling that they are going to dominate the high school facet of the competition. 

With five years of experience to run on and last year’s near win, the high school team feels confident in their 18-cubic-inch, $2,000 robot this year. 

Gray started the program five years ago in the Ronan Middle School and sees the benefits that the students gain from such a program.

“It’s neat to see them all grow and mature,” Gray said.

The kids benefit the same way an athlete would from a competition, Gray explained. But many of his kids are not athletes, and the competition is their one and only event every year.

Because traditionally the robotics team is mostly male, the advisers encourage girls to join the robotics team.

This year the middle school boasts five girls. The high school team sports two freshman girls as well, who are just starting to learn their way around the world of robotics. 

The female members are excited to branch off next year to form an all female robotics team.

By minimizing the “yuck” factor female students commonly associate with robotics, the advisers are hoping to attract more female students who can compete for special scholarships to college for engineering or business. Some of these scholarships are set aside specifically for female students interested in entering the engineering or business fields of study, Middle School Robotics Team Advisor Jessica Johnson said.

On Monday after school, the middle school team has logically divided themselves into different factions to work on the robot. Part of the team programs the Lego-built robot on wheels. 

The other half works on the design of their creation, as well as a power point presentation, and a separate model designed to improve traffic in the community. 

Johnson noted that the team has done everything by themselves.

On Saturday, the middle school will compete in the FLL (First Lego League).

The FLL is the middle school’s branch of the competition. Their robot is programmed to move about a course by itself without the help of controls. The team will be judged on members' ability to identify issues in their community and teamwork, as well as the performance of their robot.

The middle school’s robot differs in size and capabilities, compared to the high school team’s robot. 

And the two competitions are designed differently, as well. 

The middle school robot is pre-programmed to run a course on a mat with obstacles, while the high school’s robot is designed to play a game involving Wiffle balls.

Over the weekend, the high school robotics team worked from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. finishing their shiny, aluminum robot. 

At the Tech Challenge this weekend, the high school robotics team’s robot will compete with their opponents’ robots. 

It will not be pre-progammed like the middle school’s, but will actually be controlled by a controller and compete with another school’s robot in a basketball-like game, that involves the throwing and catching of Wiffle balls.

If the teams win in Bozeman, the national competition in Atlanta, Ga., is a possibility. 

A national competition in robotics will give these hard working, science loving students another outlet to demonstrate their amazing talents and robotic skills. 

And for these driven teenagers, the sky’s the limit. 

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