S-C robotics takes last minute trip to regionals

By Nicole Cooke

March 27, 2014

After falling short in the semifinal round of the Greater Kansas City FIRST Robotics Regional Competition a little more than a week ago, Team SCREAM thought their season had ended. Returning to the world championships two years in a row is now within reach for the students, after being asked to compete in the annual Oklahoma FIRST Regional Competition — which started yesterday.

Teacher Michael Wright received a phone call early Thursday morning as he was getting ready for work from a representative of FIRST Robotics who asked if Team SCREAM — Smith-Cotton Robotics, Engineering and Mathematics — wanted to compete in the Oklahoma competition, which runs through this weekend.

“He said ‘I’ve got a proposition for you, we wanted to see if you wanted to come to Oklahoma to compete,’” Wright said. “I was like ‘oh wow, when is it?’ ‘Today.’ My first thought was there’s no way we can do that, not a chance. I said I don’t think there’s any way we can do that, but thanks for the offer.

“I talked to my wife and she said I should try. I called our principal Mr. Norton up to let him know what they said and he immediately was on board and said you can go, no questions asked. Now we’re in freak out mode trying to figure out what to do,” he added.

Wright spent the morning calling coaches and students to pull together a small team to take to Oklahoma. Typically about 30 students travel to competitions, but because of time constraints, only nine will be attending this weekend. One of those students is senior Caitlin Williams, lead scout for Team SCREAM. She and her teammates didn’t believe Wright at first when they received the call.

“I was so surprised,” Williams said. “I actually woke up late so I was still kind of asleep and it took awhile to get it in my head. At first I was like, what is happening? He told me we were going to Oklahoma and I was like ‘when?’ And he said ‘today.’”

Wright also worked to reserve a van, get hotel reservations, pay for the event, and helped the team work on the robot — from scratch. Since they hadn’t advanced to the world championships after the regional competition, the students had disassembled the robot, thinking their season was over.

That work included needing some new parts in a short amount of time, so Wright called one of the team’s sponsors for some assistance.

“Our shooter arm, after so many shots the past few weeks, our arm was bent quite a bit and we didn’t have any more material,” Wright said. “We called up W&M Welding, told them the story and asked if they had any of this material. They actually got it and cut it for us and brought it over themselves and delivered it for us, which is amazing the support we have from our sponsors. We’re really grateful for them and what they’re doing for us.”

Thursday at the competition was a full day of practice and inspections for the teams in Oklahoma City. Because they were notified at the last minute, Team SCREAM was allowed to work on their robot in Sedalia before making the trip.

“They are allowing us to work on the robot here so we can have it ready and when we get there (Thursday night) they’re going to open it up especially for us to do our inspection,” Wright said. “They’re pulling some strings for us which is really exciting. We thought our season was over, already had things put away, planned for the summer, and we have our banquet planned and everything. This is giving us one more shot at qualifying for the world championships. We’re just gonna go down there have fun and see what we can do.”

The invitation to the competition speaks to the team’s success after only two years in existence, and shows they have some notoriety in the robotics world.

“That was a really exciting and humbling realization they called us,” Wright said. “We were the first team they called because they know how well our team has done and how at this point we’re so close to qualifying, so it’s pretty exciting that they called us.”

Team SCREAM will be one of 62 teams competing at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City, which is bigger than their previous competitions in Kansas City and Arkansas. Wright said there’s a few teams they’ve competed against, but many are new teams from the Oklahoma area they haven’t seen yet.

“We’ve done pretty well at our last two competitions so I’m hoping we’ll do pretty well at this one,” Williams said. “I feel it’ll be sort of interesting to go in not really knowing any teams. We never expected to go to Oklahoma. It’ll be interesting.”

The competition will be broadcasted on today and Saturday.