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Robotics team crashes Worlds party

Senior team qualifies after success in State skills competition, aims to make history while having fun

The McCallum senior robotics team consisting of Jesse Silverman, Henry Holmes, Felix Murdock and Zane Wiggins is competing in the VEX world championship this weekend in Dallas. The team qualified for Worlds by placing third in skills at State. In the skills competition, teams compete on the field alone by scoring as many points as possible.

We want to be competitive, and we want to have fun, win a couple of games, put up a good fight and put on a good show.

— senior Jessie Silverman

Senior Jesse Silverman joined robotics sophomore year but qualified for Worlds for the first time this year.

“I’ve wanted to do it for a long time,” Silverman said. “I was just very relieved I was able to do it senior year.”

McCallum was one of the few teams in its region that qualified for Worlds, based on the amount of points its robot scored. According to junior Felix Murdock, qualifying for worlds was a waiting game to see if anyone would beat McCallum’s score of 286.

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“And so, it wasn’t like one moment,” Murdock said. “It was just like, we’re in the top three we just have to hope no one else scores more than us.”

McCallum’s robot sits at the team’s station at the VEX Robotics World Championships the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Dallas. After some modifications since State, the robot is leaner but still possessed its trademark pop-up feature that blocks the scoring attempts of other robots (courtesy of Henry Holmes).

No one scored more but some scored the same amount, creating the unforeseen challenge of having to navigate a tie in order to qualify for Worlds. Both sides accused the other of cheating. In the end, they had to replay the match, but the team ran into some problems with its robot according to Murdock.

“There were 10 minutes when everyone was frantically checking their robot to see, ‘Is anything broken? Do we need to fix anything?’” he said. “Our motor had overheated, so we were holding the cooling thing, trying to cool down the motors by spraying ice on them.”

This year we made sure to communicate with each other on every part. So while there’s someone in charge of everything, everyone has a part in building it as well.

— senior Henry Holmes

While the team’s robot was successful in the state competition, the team recognizes that it still has weaknesses and therefore has worked to make it thinner, so that it can fit into more spaces. The bot also has strengths such as a pop-up feature on the robot that can block the enemy team from shooting and getting points.

Senior Henry Holmes said that since State, the team has worked during off periods and after school on a small rebuild of its robot to prepare for Worlds.

“A lot of mistakes that we see teams do is to completely remodel and change up and spend too much time trying to come up with a completely new robot,” Holmes said. “We are trying to hone in what we have, make it smaller, and more versatile.”

Holmes said the team’s strategy in building the robot has changed from previous years, with the team integrating more collaboration into the process.

“Communication is a lot, that’s kind of what I feel we improved most on this year and last year,” he said. “We all kind of made our own part of the project or robot and put it all together, and it was kind of a struggle to do that, but this year we made sure to communicate with each other on every part. So while there’s someone in charge of everything, everyone has a part in building it as well.”

Unlike other schools, the team doesn’t have a class period to work on its bot; instead, the robotics club has been having regular meetings on Wednesdays and Thursdays, but the senior team has also been practicing on Thursdays, during FIT time and during off periods.

According to Silverman, McCallum Robotics is at a competitive disadvantage compared to many world-caliber teams.

“A lot of them have more resources and more time than us, Silverman said. “Our biggest goal is to just go out there and compete.”

At Worlds, the team will compete in matches prior to eliminations, which will determine where they are on the leaderboard. At the beginning of the elimination rounds, the top eight teams will be able to pick an alliance, but if team outside the top eight are not picked, they are disqualified.

You’ve got a thousand teams coming [to Worlds] from all over the planet. Why is it in Dallas?

— junior Felix Murdock

Because of this possible consequence, Silverman said it is crucial for the team to do something to get noticed.

“I’m a big fan of our defensive driving and strategy,” he said. “I want that to be a standout to other teams when they are looking at us.”

According to Silverman, the team’s goal at Worlds is to make it to the elimination rounds, something no other McCallum robotics team has done.

“Because this is the furthest we’ve ever gotten, and there are teams that spend every waking moment working, we’re not trying to win the whole thing,” he said.

Hundreds of teams will be coming from all over for this competition; McCallum will compete specifically in the research division among 84 of the teams in a bracket-style tournament. Silvermans main goal is to balance the competition and enjoyment aspects of the tournament.

“We want to be competitive,” Silverman said, “and we want to have fun, win a couple of games, put up a good fight and put on a good show.”

And even though teams are coming from all over the world, the competition is staying close to home.

“It feels like it should be somewhere like New York cause you’ve got a thousand teams coming from all over the planet,” Murdock said. “Why is it in Dallas?”

This story was originally published on The Shield Online on April 27, 2024.