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Sherrard students ready for robotics challenge

The Sherrard High School First Tech Challenge team will compete against seven other area schools Saturday in Peoria. Team members, from left, are Holly Jacobs, Corey Tegtmeier, Casey Jacobs, Ethan Schmelzer, Aiden Welch and Michael Wherry. Not pictured is Jacob Zimanek.

SHERRARD — The Sherrard High School First Tech Challenge robotics team will compete with seven other local teams Saturday in Peoria. On Jan. 28, the students won two of five matches at Riverdale High School near Port Byron in the last of three league meets this season. Their division includes United Township, Orion, Riverdale, Kewanee, Fulton, Knoxville and Carthage high schools. This year’s FirstTech game is called, “Relic Recovery.” Teams work together and earn points by placing cubes, called “glyphs” into a designated three-glyph wide by four-glyph tall “cryptobox” and recovering “relics” from the corner of the field.

Competitions include pre-programmed instructions and driver-controlled portions.

Throughout the school year, student teams create a single robot. It must fit into an 18-inch cube but can expand during competition. During a competition, teams place robots in a 12-foot-square playing field with a foam-tile floor surrounded by 1-foot-high walls.

Sherrard’s STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — Club began in the fall of 2016. Students meet every day after school for a few hours.

The team has been funded through charitable sources, including a $1,450 John Deere Inspire Grant, a $1,500 Sherrard Boosters gift and an Illinois FTC Rookie matching grant of $1,500.

Math teacher Lucas Fritch and science teacher Chris LaRoche guide the students, with assistance from ag instructor John Rasty and tech coordinator Jay Wyckoff.

“We have six students who have been to every competition,” Mr. Fritch said. “We have approximately four more students who help after school but are not able to commit enough time to be a full member.”

There are three qualifying rounds of competitions. The “game” is revealed in September, and teams are given a design and test window before competitions. The first was held in November in Orion with the second in Knoxville in December. Knoxville and Riverdale provided help for the Sherrard team.

“They provided ‘trouble shooting’ at the competitions in order for our robot to pass inspections and to begin working autonomously.” Mr. Fritch said.

Students go through a process of interviews and presentations to judges, and complete forms regarding the safety and functionality of the robot. Between matches, students can repair or enhance robots as needed.

Mr. Fritch said Sherrard students fabricated parts of the robot, while other teams buy robotics kits.

The team includes Casey Jacobs, lead engineer; Aidan Welch, lead computer programmer; and Ethan Schmelzer, lead operator. Also on the team are Holly Jacobs, Jacob Zimanek, Ryan Mack, Corey Tegtmeier and Michael Wherry.

“Teamwork has been paramount in progressing through the competition preparation,” Mr. LaRoche said. “Other students have worked to organize the team and ensure that all game requirements were met.

“Some of our students have had the opportunity to apply academic material learned in math and science courses to the mechanics and operations of the robot,” he said. Mr. Casey, a junior, said the program gave him the privilege of working with other mechanically-inclined minds.“I can physically manipulate our robot to suit our ever-changing needs and observe the results,” he said, “as opposed to the science and mathematics courses ... where the solutions to problems are generally either simply numbers, theoretical, or so minute that I cannot see them.”

He also said that, as an aspiring engineer, FTC allowed him to broaden his intellectual horizons by creating mechanical solutions to challenges. He said he already was looking forward to next year’s challenge.

Mr. LaRoche said he hoped to integrate the FTC program into Sherrard’s curriculum. Eventually, he said, the high school hopes to create a STEM center and offer robotics as a class.“The best part of FTC is having the opportunity to get a taste of mechanics, programming, and educating others without having to fully commit to one thing,” Ms. Jacobs, a sophomore, said. “The FTC community is a great support system no matter where we are.”

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