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St. Helens robotics team headed to international championships

Team took 24th in district competition last week

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - The St. Helens Robotics and Engineering Club, seen here, qualified for international championships after a strong showing at district championships last week.The St. Helens High School Robotics and Engineering Club was one of 24 teams from the Pacific Northwest region to be invited to FIRST Robotics Championships being held in St. Louis in late April.

The robotics club finished 24th out of 158 teams in the district championships held in Portland, April 7-9, qualifying it for the international championship game where 900 teams from 39 countries will compete.

The club, whose members reference it by its acronym, SHREC, and use an ogre as their mascot in the spirit of the Dreamworks Pictures movie, “Shrek,” will travel to St. Louis to take part in the four-day competition April 27-30.

The robotics club has only competed in FIRST Robotics challenges for two years, and this is the first it has qualified for the international competition.

Lillian Niemi, a freshman in the club, said she was shocked that the team qualified for regional competitions earlier this year. She’s looking forward to competing at the international level.

“To be in that top section of teams was a huge accomplishment,” Niemi said.

   To determine rankings, teams compete in an alliance of three against other allied teams and earn scores based on how the teams’ robots overcome challenges. Teams with the highest scores advance.

During last week’s competition, SHREC had several complications after its robot was rammed, causing damage to an arm piece and motor.

Like a race car pit crew, the club has a limited amount of time between rounds to repair damages. However, once the competition is over, teams aren’t allowed to make any modifications, changes or repairs to the robots. That means SHREC members can’t touch their robot until they get to St. Louis and check in to the competition.

Being a new team on the competition field was also a challenge. Some teams have robotics programs that have been competing for almost 20 years, students and team mentors explained.

Students like Sam Shiel, a freshman, and Ethan Wallace, a sophomore, said they’re excited and nervous for the upcoming championship. Others, like Philip Robinson, a junior on the team, said they’re looking forward to the experience of the international competition.

Finishing the season as a high-ranking team could also help the club receive more funding next year, Robinson said. Attending the championships also exposes students to college recruiters and provides networking opportunities students might not otherwise have, manufacturing teacher and club mentor Bonnie Adams said.

Mentors and club members met this week to discuss the logistics of the trip. The expense for the trip is shouldered by each student in the club.

Club members have planned a car wash on Saturday, April 16, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Chubb’s Shell Station at 745 S. Columbia River Highway in St. Helens to fundraise as a group. Donations to the team can also be made online, through the district's website. Click here for more information.The team must also figure out a way to safely ship the robot to St. Louis.

Mike Shiel, a team mentor, said the club has been talking to other teams that have previously competed to come up with a plan.

Some neighboring robotics clubs, like Scappoose High School’s “Byte Sized Robotics,” have also offered supplies and assistance.

Although the teams may be competitors, a sense of “gracious professionalism” is a huge part of FIRST Robotics, Mike Shiel said.