Two scrappy, celebrated Southeast FIRST Robotics Teams compete -- then team up

DAVID F. ASHTON - In their pit area, the Metal Beavers Team Captain and driver JR Surban checked their robots programming with the co-driver, home-schooled student Jacob Purvis. Although two area high school robotics teams – the Metal Beavers and the Pigmice – went head-to-head early in this year's FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) matches, they later teamed up to take on the state champions together.

The action took place at the 2018 FRC District Event for the Pacific Northwest Regional District, hosted by the Oregon Robotics Tournament & Outreach Program (ORTOP), and held again at Lake Oswego High School.

Both after-school robotics club teams have deep roots in the community. These teams are financially supported by donations and grants.

Acknowledged as Portland's first high-school-based robotics club, FRC Team 1432 ("the Metal Beavers"), were kicked out of Franklin High School in 2010 for reasons still unknown, but the nonprofit club moved into the basement of Knights of Pythias Ivanhoe Lodge #1 in Lents, where it continues to this day.

DAVID F. ASHTON - Pigmice computer-aided-engineering lead Isabelle Rinehart, programming team member Chrisse Hung, and programming team captain Flora Abrams, stand with their robot in the pit area. Cleveland High School's FRC Team 2733, "The Pigmice", was created by many of the students who were involved in the 2007 FIRST Lego League Robotics World Champion team of the same name when they were attending Brooklyn's Winterhaven School.

At the competition, the small-but-plucky Metal Beavers team worked on their robot in the pit area between matches.

"A friend of mine recommended it, and found that I really liked the whole idea of First Robotics Competition, and how everything is goal based," said the team captain, JR Surban, a junior at Franklin High School. "After working with the team, I found that I like putting stuff together; making something that works out from small pieces, which can do things that meet a goal."

In addition to building robots, Surban added, "Doing this, I've learned how to communicate better both within our team and with other teams, and learned how to work better together."

Across the aisle in "pit row" was the FIRST Robotics Team 2733, the Pigmice.

"We're an entirely-student-led team with 43 members, who have the help and guidance of ten mentors," remarked the team's computer-aided-engineering lead, Isabelle Rinehart, a junior at Cleveland High School.

"I really like mathematics and physics, so this is a good way to incorporate those skills in a real-world application," Rinehart said. "And, working among our teams, we learn valuable communication skills, helping our project all come together in the end."

ORTOP Executive Director David Perry provided an overview of the event comprised of 36 teams from high schools in Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

"This year's FRC game is called 'Power Up', and is based on classic 8-bit video games," Perry told THE BEE. "The robots score points by putting 'power cubes' on balance beams; and, in the final 30 seconds, the robots attempt to climb cords, hoisting themselves up to score more points."

The FRC competition is important in education today, Perry commented. "And, like in other sports, students are learning about teamwork and working together, solving real-world engineering problems together in just six weeks."

In addition to math, science and engineering challenges, ORTOP Development Director Cindy Lebeau pointed out that the teams are also run like businesses. "They have to fund-raise, get sponsors, and promote – using skills such as public relation, graphic design, business, accounting, and budgeting."

During the games, three teams are assigned to either the red or blue "alliance" putting six robots on the playing field at one time.

In mid-afternoon, for Match 24, the Metal Beavers were assigned to the Blue Alliance; the Pigmice to the Red Alliance.

Both teams played valiantly; and at the end, the Metal Beavers' robot scored as it hoisted itself over the other machines.

The Metal Beavers earned a spot as Alliance Captain, in the elimination rounds the following day, giving them the right to select two other teams to join them.

"They selected the Spartan Robotics team from Corvallis, and the Pigmice," said the Cleveland High's team coach Cindi Carrell after the event. "We were really honored to be selected by our neighbors!"

The alliance won their first quarter finals, and advanced to semifinals, where they lost to the number one ranked alliance, which later won the event.

While the Metal Beavers didn't gather enough points to move on to qualify for the District Championship at Veterans Memorial Coliseum on the following weekend, the Pigmice did qualify to advance.

"Pigmice also were honored with the FRC 'Engineering Inspiration Award', the highest judged award the team has ever earned," Carrell reported. After the District Championships, Carrell said, when all points were totaled, Pigmice finished the season ranking 48 out of 154 – and are looking forward to next year's competition.

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