NRCA Robotics Team Wins Regional Championship at ECU

NRCA Robotics Team Wins Regional Championship at ECU

By: Micah Hartley, Shield Staff

After the NRCA MS Robotics FLL team went to states the 2020-2021 season, Mr. Zack Dean got approval from Dr. Mathes to start a HS Robotics club which began this 2021-2022 school year. After winning the regional ACSI STEM Robotics competition, the team continued with direction from Mr. Dean and applied for and won a sponsorship from NASA which awarded a grant that paid for a “kit of parts” and registration for events that eclipsed $10,435 in support for the 2021-2022 FIRST Robotics season. 

FIRST is the globally recognized robotics competition that has its roots in MIT college applications (see “More than Robots” documentary on Disney+). This year’s competition, which consists of a game in which the objective is to score as many points as possible, was March 11-13 at ECU’s Minges Coliseum. This event hosts the top engineering schools and community clubs in the state. 

This competition was not without its hardships and roadblocks. The night before the competition is when the robot is to be inspected and the pit is to be set up. Instead of getting inspected, the team spent most of the night rushing to get the robot operational. The qualification rounds commenced Saturday morning, but the robot was still unable to drive when the practice rounds started. Being a new team also had its limitations in gear and tools. “Throughout the whole competition, teams would let us borrow their equipment and machinery so we could fix our robot,” Evan Dean said. 

In the competition there are alliances. “Each alliance is made up of three teams. Two alliances compete against each other to increase their ranking in the competition,” explained Ben Christner, lead driver for the Knights in the championship round. “To earn points, your robot must shoot a rubber ball into one of two hoops: a low basket (one point) or a high basket (two points). You can earn extra points by being able to move your robot in autonomous mode (without a driver) and by being able to hang on bars mounted at different distances off the ground.” 

It was looking grim. The Knights were ranked 22nd after the qualifying rounds on Saturday. The playoffs started on Sunday, and the Knights, with their alliance partners, managed to make it to the championship round! After losing the first match, the Knight’s alliance, piloted by Ben Christner, won the next two matches to take first place in the district. 

“Winning the championship was one of the greatest feelings I have ever experienced,” Christner said. “When I finished driving in the finals and saw our team come out on top, I had the biggest adrenaline rush I have ever felt. Knowing all the time and hard work it took to get to that point made the experience even more special.” 

With the win, the Knights secured a spot at the state tournament this past April, which took place at Campbell University’s Gore Arena. The Knights kept busy fixing the robot in between rounds, especially on Sunday when they had only three students in attendance. “The other teams’ help was critical to our success that weekend,” Evan Dean said. 

The Knights could be seen praying before and after every playoff match. Their verse for the year, Philippians 4:13 says following: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” This verse served as a source of encouragement for the team from the very beginning. The sky’s the limit for the robotics program. “Our robot was not as fancy as those of other teams in the state (being a rookie team with a fraction of other teams’ budgets and sponsors), but we came out on top through hard work and determination!” Mr. Zack Dean said. “My vision last year was to just start a club, and now that has been accomplished, and we won our first event at Minges Coliseum in front of the whole engineering community in NC, our goal is to do better than we did last time.” 

Mr. Dean hopes to have a much larger team and support in coming years as that is what is needed for continued success. “I hope that the student who feels like they fit more into a STEM career path sees my class and club as a place where they can begin to develop the tools necessary to attain scholarships and go into STEM fields with confidence having both thought about all of these concepts immensely and done these concepts through robotics and engineering,” Mr. Dean said. 

The Knights look to continue their success next year and for many seasons to come.