With the number of team members growing by eight over last year, Grandview Heights High School's 2020 FIRST robotics squad has a mix of seasoned veterans and first-time participants.

That computes into a strong team this year that's set up for the future as well, said industrial-technology teacher Brad Gintert, who coaches the group with high school chemistry teacher Jo Lee and science teacher Caleb Evans.

"We have 23 students, which is a lot higher number than in the past couple years," Lee said. "One of the reasons for that is that we have more female students who joined the team, which is a really good thing to see."

Ten girls are part of the 2020 FIRST team.

"There's a good mix of seniors who have the experience and younger students who bring a lot of enthusiasm and new ideas," Gintert said.

FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is an international youth organization founded in 1989 to promote engineering and technology fields to students.

Grandview's FIRST team unveiled its robot Feb. 22 during an open house at its work space in the kindergarten annex building at Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School.

Students designed, built and programmed the robot in a six-week window allowed by FIRST rules.

The team competed Feb. 26-29 in the Miami Valley Regional in Dayton, looking to qualify for the FIRST World Championship, set April 29 through May 2 in Detroit.

The Botcats team tied for sixth place in the competition with a 1.88 score.  

A team composed of students from several high schools in Shelby was the top-ranked squad with a 2.33 score.   The Grandview team now is on a waiting list to find out if it qualifies for the world championship.

The 2020 FIRST Robotics competition, "Infinite Recharge," offers a sci-fi-themed scenario in which teams use their robots to collect "power cells" for a force-field generator, protecting a city from approaching asteroids.

This year's challenge features three tasks the robot must perform: grabbing and tossing 7-inch balls into a tray; spinning a rotation-control device; and grabbing and hanging onto a bar.

The robot has 2 minutes, 15 seconds to complete the tasks after an initial 15-second period when the robot operates without any control or input from the team.

"The biggest challenge this year is that there are three components to what the robot is being asked to do, instead of just two," Gintert said.

Getting it all done in 135 seconds requires not just a well-designed and well-built robot but also a team that is effective and efficient at the human side of the FIRST competition, Evans said.

"This year, we have a very interesting design for our robot," senior Amelia Sturbois said. "The tricky thing is that we've had to build three mechanisms, and that's been a fun challenge."

With the large roster of new team members, the veterans have had a chance to "pass down our experience and knowledge about what it takes to design and build a robot," she said.

That led to a stronger team and a stronger robot, Sturbois said.

For the first time, the team had the personnel to build a second robot, which served as a kind of practice run, senior Lauren Leach said.

"Everyone has a lot of passion and dedication," she said. "We're willing to put in that extra time."

The practice robot allowed the team to determine the best design for the robot it had built and entered in the competition, Sturbois said.

"We feel really confident about our robot's chances to complete all the challenges," senior Emmalyn Kukura said.

Although many of the students participating in FIRST this year might have a desire to enter into a STEM-based career, it's not true of everyone, Sturbois said.

"Even if that's the case, there's a lot to gain from the FIRST experience," she said. "There are a lot of lessons in leadership, cooperation, working as part of a team to reach a goal that I think will help you no matter what career you choose."

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