Homer Middle School team crowned Robotics champs

In up-to-the-end excitement, the Homer Middle School Robotics team, Your Mama’s Llamas, took first place in the Kenai Peninsula competition Saturday.

“They did really well,” said Margi Blanding, advisor for the HMS team. “(Competition) went right up to the end. It was really touch and go.”

What gave the team its edge was “solving problems, working well under pressure. That’s what really made the difference,” said Blanding of the combined efforts of students Ali McCarron, Ben Kettle, Caleb Rauch, Douglas Dean and Seamus Scholz, coached by Arthur Kettle.

“I was impressed with how calm and collected they were during competition, how they kept working toward making things better during the robot round,” said Kettle, who has been coaching the team for four years. “They just did a lot of hard work and presented it well in the end.”

Sponsored by First Lego League, the theme of this year’s event was “nature’s fury.” The 14-and-younger students faced several challenges. The first part focused on programming a robot for specific theme-related activities. The second part required chosing a community, researching for a specific theme-related problem and then solving the problem.

“Our team picked Homer and worked on trying to evacuate people from the Spit,” said Blanding. “They did a lot of research, came up with lots of ideas and tried to come up with a dynamic evacuation plan.”

The HMS students devised an electronic solution.

“It worked on cell phone and Wi-Fi notification methods, as well as sensors,” said Kettle. “They put sensors on the Spit to see if it subsided, as it did in the last earthquake, and cameras to see if roads were intact … and relayed that information to city officials or whoever would make decisions on which way cars should go. And they had GPS and some water-height sensors to see if there would be a tsunami.”

Teams also were judged on such core values as how they worked together, shared responsibilities and showed respect for each other, “all the real important stuff in the real world,” said Blanding.

With 12 competing teams and five trophies available, West Homer Elementary School’s two teams, coached by Alana Greear and Zack Miller, claimed two trophies. Team Auto-Moto, comprised of Tyson Shafer, Aryton Clifford, Asa Panarelli, Sam Larson and Evan Halstead, won a trophy for “Best Robot Design.”

“Without any adult help, they were able to look at the obstacles placed ahead of them and design a robot that would overcome whatever was in its path,” said WHE Principal Ray Marshall. 

The WHES Lego Oreo team, including Timberlee Davis, Katlin Cudaback, Josh Bradshaw, Sylvester Gauna, Ben Coble and Aaron Toro, won the “Judges Choice” trophy.

“Even when they faced tremendous challenges, they kept pushing on, working as a team, and never losing their positive attitudes,” said Marshall.

Your Mama’s Llamas now go on to state competition in Anchorage, facing teams from across the Alaska.

“From state, they could actually go on to national competition and that is the big one in St. Louis in April,” said Blanding. “That would sure be fun.”

McNeil Canyon Elementary School sent three teams to the competition: The Tsunami Surfers, The Mustache Mob and The Carate Kows. The teams were coached by Karen Weston.

“The teams did really well, especially since we had so many first time participants,” said Weston. “Going over the judges’ comments, it looks like each team excelled in a different area.  The Tsunami Surfers did well on their project presentation and their core values activity, the Mustache Mob got third-place in the Robot Game, and the Carate Kows’ strongest performance was in their robot design. All in all a good showing from the McNeil Elementary kids. It can be tough to compete against older kids with more experience.”