Ronan High Team Wins Robotics World Championships

By Beacon Staff

RONAN – This is the funny part of the story of Ronan High School’s trip to the World Robotics Championships in St. Louis last week.

“Having never been before, we didn’t know what to expect,” says Jesse Gray, the team’s coach, as he and seven Ronan students arrived at the Edward Jones Dome, home of the NFL’s St. Louis Rams, for the competition.

In a convention center next door, hundreds of teams from around the world set up in their “pit areas,” which looked like display booths for a trade show.

“Some of them put roofs on their booths, they had nice chairs and video displays and big tool box racks,” Gray says. “There were teams with sponsors like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, NASA.”

And the Ronan booth?

“We took some screws out and put up a six-foot table banner,” Gray says, “and we found a couple of wooden crates to sit on.”

And now, the best part of the story.

Ronan won the world championship.

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Competing in the First Technical Challenge, which featured 128 robotics teams from as far away as The Netherlands, Ronan took down virtually all comers over three days of intense competition.

Your 2011 FTC World Robotics Champions are Troy McMillan, Thane Tobol, Alex Killian, J.T. Probst, Hunter Shima, Tyler Sassaman and Collin Hardy.

Team member Bradly Findly, who fell ill just before the event, couldn’t make the trip.

The other seven “came unglued,” Grays says, after they and their alliance partners defeated a team from San Diego and its partners 119-50 and 43-29 in the best-of-three world championship Saturday morning.

“They were jumping up and down, high-fiving, screaming and yelling,” Gray says. “When people asked me how I thought we’d do before we left, I said I had no idea – we were just glad to be going. I had a feeling myself we might do well, but I hadn’t planned on winning the whole thing.”

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The key to Ronan’s success was in the simplicity of the design of its robot, engineered by McMillan and programmed by Tobol.

“It was half the size of the others, really small and really quick,” Gray says. “The others were big and could not move as quickly. They were unable to keep up with us. That led to other teams playing more defense than offense, trying to block us from scoring.”

Ronan competed against 128 other teams entered in the First Technical Challenge, in a competition divided into two divisions, the Franklin and the Edison.

After going through judges’ interviews Wednesday, Ronan won six of seven matches on Thursday to qualify as the fourth — and final — seed for the Franklin Division finals.

The first three seeds selected their alliance partners from the 60 other teams that failed to qualify before Ronan team members chose teams from Westport, Conn., and Lexington, Mass., to join them as alliance partners in the semifinals and finals.

Ronan and its partners won both 2-1. They posted a semifinal victory over the top-seeded team from Staten Island, N.Y., and its partners from Edison, N.J., and Columbus, Ohio, 63-0, 30-34, 39-30.

Then Ronan took down the second seed, from Highland Park, Ill., and its partners from Elkhart, Ind., and Fairbanks, Alaska, 76-60, 39-60 and 54-52 to claim the Franklin Division title and advance to the world championship.

“That last one had us worried,” Gray admits.

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There were an estimated 20,000 people at the world championships, according to Gray, and some 6,000 were still there to watch after the field had been culled down to Saturday’s pairing.

The alliance partners for Ronan’s opponent from San Diego came from South Orange, N.J., and Atherton, Calif.

This year’s game, played at all competitions throughout the year, was called “Get Over It.”

Competition occurred on that 12-foot-by-12-foot field divided by two “cliffs,” two ramps (also called bridges) and one “mountain” in the center.

There are several ways to score points; most involve the robot removing 6-inch-long PVC tubes, called batons, from dispensers located around the field and placing them into stationary or rolling goals.

Other teams do the same thing, at the same time, on the same field, and four robots — two per alliance — all run at once, trying to score points and keep the other team from doing so simultaneously.

Ronan team members also visited Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals, the Gateway Arch, and attended a concert by will.i.am and the Black Eyed Peas.

Then they came home as world champions. They got a police-escorted ride around town Monday morning on a Ronan Fire Department truck, followed by a pep assembly at the school.

“The robot worked flawlessly and their strategies really clicked,” says Gray, who started the robotics team six years ago in Ronan Middle School. “It was amazing. I think they’re still in shock over the whole thing.”

As, probably, are teams from around the world with the fancier booths and, as it turned out, the lesser robots.

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