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St. Helens robotics club takes first at regional event

Team will compete in regional championships in early April


SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - The St. Helens Robotics and Engineering Club poses with its robot on Wednesday, March 9. The club won two awards during a FIRST Robotics Competition in Spokane, Wash., on Saturday, March 5. The St. Helens Robotics and Engineering Club earned a shared first-place title Saturday, March 5, during a robotics competition in Spokane, Wash.

The club was one of three high schools in the Pacific Northwest region to win a first-place title for the Pacific Northwest District West Valley Event. Alliances of three teams vied in a round-robin style contest over the two-day competition. The St. Helens team earned the title in collaboration West Valley High School of Spokane and Kittitas High School of Kittitas, Wash.

The Saturday competition was the first of the season for the Pacific Northwest region. By the close of the competition, the St. Helens club was ranked fourth out of 34 teams, a placement that factors into how teams are matched headed into the event’s final rounds.

The Robotics and Engineering Club at the high school has been competing in FIRST Robotics Competition events for two years, but had not previously taken home a first-place title. FIRST is a nonprofit formed to inspire young people to pursue science and technology opportunities. It hosts numerous challenges across the nation.

The St. Helens club also earned an award for “Innovation in Control.”

This year’s club is made up of 22 students and eight adult mentors. Neil Ford, a chemistry teacher at St. Helens High School, has been coaching the club for six years. This year, the club has had the most mentor involvement, with volunteers from local engineering contractors to school board members helping out.

The students had built their functioning robot over a span of just six weeks. Competition season for the team started in early January. Each year, FIRST Robotics designs a new game challenge with different obstacles, goals and game pieces in play. Typically, competitions require several teams to form alliances and play against other teams.

“My favorite part about the competition, and overall, is watching the work that we put into it pay off,” Jade Kearsley, a freshman on the team, said. “And, seeing that we were all smart enough to come up with a design that would work and would accomplish the goals that we had.”

Many students in the club said they have learned so much from the robotics and engineering club that they want to pursue some sort of technical, engineering or mechanical career after high school.

Brad Zielaskowski, a senior, said he plans to pursue a degree in computer engineering when he graduates, based on what he learned from being in the club for three years.

Students said they are celebrating the accomplishment from last weekend, but are also preparing for the next round of competition by planning for improvements and preparing mentally for the challenge ahead.

“I was really confident about our last performance because we did really well, so that’s always a confidence booster, but also knowing that we’re going to be going against a lot of teams that are just as good or better, or more experienced, than we are is a little nerve-racking,” Tatum Stewart, a junior on the team, said.

The club’s scores last weekend were sufficient for it to qualify for regional championships, which will be held in early April in Oregon City.