Robotics team planning for another championship

Published 10:25 am Wednesday, April 9, 2014

by Hank Mummert

I’m the senior mentor for Franklin’s First robotics team. I’ve been with the team since its beginnings in 2005. I wanted to comment on a few things that most people don’t know that make it all that more remarkable about the team and about some of the hardships we’ve gone thru to get where we are today.

The team was started in 2005 after Liz Burgess had watched Southampton’s robotics team compete the prior year at VCU. This current trip to the World Championship isn’t their third time — its their fourth actually. We were the best rookie team at the competition that year and that qualified us to go to the World Championship.

Our team and Southampton’s team realized early on that we would be competing for both mentors and resources so talks were held and we both decided to try and merge the following year.

Both school systems didn’t like the idea, and as a result, Southampton’s team disbanded, but we were able to keep going. In spite of this bad turn of events, we ended up being the lead team that won the competition that year.

Another thing most people don’t know is that we actually aren’t in the high school. Until 2010, we moved every year. The first year we were at the high school, the second year we were at Paul D. Camp Community College, then the third year we worked out of a small class room at the high school. The following year (2008), we worked in the building trades room at the high school. In 2009, we didn’t compete because we were basically forced to move out of the space we were using at the high school and had to find someplace else to go. Moving each year placed a hardship on us.

Fortunately the old Charles St. gym wasn’t being used after the new gym had been built next door for the middle school and the school system was using it for storage. We were allowed to use that and have been since. We had to have the heating system replaced and new wiring added to the building to make it usable. We also share the gym with the wrestling team and cheerleaders and often have to work around their schedules.

Not being at the high school can be a disadvantage sometimes, as we don’t have a active presence there and some students had no idea we had a robotics team. Also we have to compete with other school sports to recruit members for the team. The winning drive team last year were also on the football, baseball and golf teams. These two students have gone on to college…which is part of what the program promotes. In 2010 we didn’t do so well, but after that year we continued to do better each year and last year we were one of the winners which qualified us for a third trip to World Championships. So here we are winners again this year and planning another trip to the World Championship.

Some facts….

Only four teams have ever won the Robotics competition three or more times at VCU. We are now one of the four. Only three teams have won it two or more years in a row. We are the only Southside Virginia team to win it three times and we are the youngest team in years to do so.

In 9 years of competition (counting this year), we will have gone to the world championship 4 times. Even the high school football team hasn’t done that well. Most robotics teams are usually run by at least one teacher at local high schools. Mrs Burgess is actually a teacher at S.P. Morton Elementary School.

She also runs the elementary school’s FIRST Lego League team, which also has done well. She should really be commended for what she does and gives to the program. Running a high school robotics team is not for the faint of heart. We often go up against other teams that are well funded and staffed. Some teams have a average of 30 to 50 students on their teams and sometimes just as many mentors. They also are funded by big major corporations such as GM, Ford, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Etc. We average about 12 students and about half as many mentors.

We fund the team through grants and donations. It’s the goal of many FIRST robotics teams to have a business plan and be self sufficient. Franklin City Schools provides our space, heating and light and a bus to the local competitions (which we often pay for). We pay for everything else. Another remarkable fact is we do well in spite of the fact that we don’t have a single mechanical or electrical engineer mentor on the team. I myself serve to a degree as the teams mechanical mentor, but actually I work as a sign painter for one of the local shipyards. You don’t have to have an engineering degree to be a mentor for the team.

This year’s winning drive team was made up of siblings. Our team coach and one of the drivers are brother and sister and the other driver and the human player are both sisters. Not many robotics teams can claim that. Except for the student acting as the coach, the other members of the drive team, while being on the team before, had never drove or played the game. The main driver was new to the team this year and had never built or drove a robot before. Just some information on the robotics team.

Hank Mummert is the senior mentor for the Franklin FIRST Robotics team 1610.