As Sidney Bates prepared to start the sixth grade at Middle School - Central, she had a unique goal: “I wanted to be able to build my own robot.” She had seen her older brother participate in the high school team, Rockem Sockem Robotics, and wanted to try her hand at it.
This prompted Sidney’s mother, Gretchen Bates, to begin the long process of bringing the very first middle school robotics team to L’Anse Creuse. With the support of MS-C administration, and no shortage of interest from students or parents, the robotics team hit the ground running.
The newly-formed team christened themselves Sir Lancer Bot and began practicing in September. It was an uphill battle from the start.
“No students had background in any of the areas of expertise necessary to design and build a robot,” Bates said. “While that put all students on the same footing, it also created the conundrum of having no student experts to rely on for expertise and training.”
Along with the dedicated parent coaches and mentors, students from the high school Rockem Sockem Robotics team stepped in to help Sir Lancer Bot get off to a good start.
The students were excited to get into engineering and programming the robot, but weren’t quite sure where their skills would fit. According to Bill Mandoky, a L’Anse Creuse parent and one of the coaches for the team, students would volunteer for certain tasks and then realize it wasn’t their thing. “This was especially difficult for them while us coaches were trying to figure things out ourselves,” he added.
There is a lot more that goes into robotics than just building a robot. The students had to learn how to write code, which is used to control the robots during practices and competition.
There were also the logistics of running a brand-new club with a group of students who had never participated in anything like it before. There were numerous rules and intricacies to learn in order to prepare the students for competition.
“It was extremely overwhelming how much was involved,” said Mandoky. “To say it was time consuming is an understatement.”
In November, after just a few months of practice, Sir Lancer Bot competed in a qualifier in Temperance. They were still finding their footing, and it was a rookie event in every sense of the word - the team ranked 33rd out of 36 teams.
Rather than let it beat them down, the team used it as a learning experience.
“We didn’t know what we didn’t know, until we knew it,” said Bates. Using their struggle to get a handle on the competition, the students redesigned and improved their robot. In doing so, they became more engaged in the game and worked hard to fill in the gaps of their knowledge.
For the next district competition held in Troy in December, Sir Lancer Bot was ready - and it showed. A far cry from the rookies who had struggled in their first competition, they won match after match, making it all the way to the semi-finals. They were the No. 1 Alliance seed team for most of the day, and were the No. 1 Alliance team captain for the semifinals. They won the Connect Award and were finalists for the Inspire Award and Motivate Award. They were first ranked in qualifying points out of all 35 teams in the competition. Best of all, they had qualified for the state finals!
Less than two percent of all first-year teams made it to the State Competition in 2018. It was quite a comeback, and one that speaks volumes about the dedication of the students, mentors and coaches. The next week was a whirlwind of excitement and preparation for States, which took place December 14-15 at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek.
While the students did well, they did not qualify to move on to the “Worlds” competition in April. But this taste of success has just made the team want to work harder.
“Making States showed our students that the sky is the limit!” Bates said. “We are very proud of how our novice team went from defeat to success and even winning awards at Districts.”
In the future, Sir Lancer Bot plans to keep working harder and make it to the Worlds competition. Throughout their participation in robotics, students have learned valuable engineering, teamwork, and coding skills that will be sure to benefit them both in future education and their careers.
As for Sidney? In addition to being able to say that she has built her own robot, a claim not many 11 year olds can make, she explained: “I learned that hard work and perseverance pays off.”
L’Anse Creuse Middle School - Central is located in Harrison Township. You can visit Sir Lancer Bot on Facebook at facebook.com/sirlancerbot.