Robotics team gearing up for April competition



FLINT TWP. – They’ve won three state championships in a row and one world championship and now Da Peeps robotics team, based at Carman- Ainsworth High School, are continuing their winning ways.

Their latest win last month at the FIRST Tech Challenge regional tournament in Wisconsin qualified them to compete in the World Championship FTC tournament April 27-30 in St. Louis, Missouri. This division is for students in grades 9 through 12, ages 14 to 18.

Da Peeps previous championships were in the FIRST Lego League, a division open to grades 4-8, ages 9 to 14. The won the 2009 World Championship and were state champions in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

FIRST tournaments offer students a chance to design, build and program robots, apply real-world math and science concepts, learn problem-solving and teamwork skills and compete for nearly $7 million in college scholarships.

Many members of Da Peeps have been together since fourth grade when they started under the guidance of their teacher and coach Leanne Welch, a teacher at Rankin Elementary.

Current members of Da Peeps, FTC team No. 3485, are Meghan Borgerding, Cassidy Elmer, Sydney Elmer, Jackie Gillie, Katie Lehman, Jonathan Miller, Shaquel Polacek, Ronnie Sherrer and Christopher Smith.

“It is nice that kids can get recognition for an academic team,” Welch said. “It’s good that it coordinates with their future jobs (aspirations).’’

Da Peep meetings are held on weekends for this group of dedicated young people who are busy doing other things including sports during the week, Welch said.

Last Saturday, three of them spent about eight hours rebuilding their 18-by- 18-inch robot dubbed Chippopotamus. Unhappy with some performance issues in Wisconsin, the team decided to totally rebuild their robot. The new and improved Chippopotamus has features that allow it to better perform tasks in competition.

Da Peeps meet in the Fenton basement of the grandparents of a team member. There they have access to a workshop full of tools. But it also where they have built an arena like the one they actually compete in. It allows them to put Chippopotamus through its performance paces which includes picking up and moving batons, balancing on a board and driving over a ledge.

Da Peeps are getting ready for their next competition February 26 in Kentucky. It will give the group an opportunity to practice competitively before their championship try in St. Louis, Welch said.

At last Sunday’s meeting, the entire team was hard at work on different projects. One group worked on rebuilding Chippopotamus which is made of aluminum and plastic.

Another worked on writing the computer program that sends the robot its orders including being to perform without assistance for the first 40 seconds of competition.

Still another group worked on a computer to create a Computer-Assisted- Design of the robot.

“We want to be able to have our whole robot done on CAD,’’ said Sherrer, 14, a student at CAHS, who added that it will help them better explain the robot to competition judges.

A fourth group worked on building the team’s new Web site to help promote their activities.

Team members emphasized that not only math and science skills are needed but they also have to be good at public speaking and writing to communicate with competition judges.

At the World Championships in St. Louis, Da Peeps will compete against top robotics teams from all over the world. Last year, they placed third at the World Championship tournament in Atlanta, said Cassidy Elmer, 15, a student at Linden High School.

In their spare time, including summers, Da Peeps also participate in community service projects and mentor several younger teams, Welch said.

They’ve held week-long camps to teach younger children how to program computers.

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