FWCD’s Robotics Team: Playing to Play

Firefighting and rescue was the theme of this year’s Cowtown BEST Engineering and Robotics Competition, and Upper School students joined forces to create, build and then drive their robot in the final competition.
Firefighting and rescue was the theme of this year’s Cowtown BEST Engineering and Robotics Competition, and Upper School students joined forces to create, build and then drive their robot in the final competition.
The competition theme was announced to participating teams at a kickoff event on Saturday, September 9, at Martin High School in Arlington. Those teams then had six weeks to design and build their robots, which included the submission of an engineering notebook that detailed the build. The bulk of the parts for the robot build were furnished by BEST in order to allow for an even playing field in the competition.
Lizann Bonin ’18, Tommy Bullock ’19, Michael Chan ’18, Alyssa Cole ’19, Nikhil De ’18, Isaac Griffin ’19, Robbie Heine ’19, Christopher Hoppe ’21, Lance Mayhue ’18, Stephanie Morgan ’20, Emma Rooker ’18 and Grace Wagner ’19 comprised FWCD’s build team. They worked before school, after school, on Saturdays leading up to the competition, and on the fall break holiday in order to complete their robot. “Our students are exceptionally busy as they take part in the many activities our school provides,” said Shaen McKnight, Robotics Club Advisor. “They had to carve out the time to complete the design, build and testing tasks.” Not all students were always present, but each student added value to the ultimate competition entry.
In addition to McKnight, Upper School Science Teacher Stephen Dickey ’89 and Upper School Math Teacher/Department Chair David Hoppe served as advisors, overseeing the students and providing a sounding board and guidance as needed.
On October 14, the students brought their robot to Mall Day at Ridgmar Mall. They were able to run their robot through various sequences as well as size up the competition. “This is always very eye-opening for the many teams that compete,” McKnight noted. “Some teams realize they are ready, while others understand the work they still need to do. Ultimately, you want to have a drivable platform that can score.” FWCD returned home for some fine-tuning before the competition check-in date.
On check-in day, Friday, October 20, at Nolan Catholic High School, the competition venue, the FWCD students suffered a setback. “There are a number of tests that the robot must pass, and we did not pass,” McKnight said. “The students were responsible for all hands-on repairs. In this competition, the coaches are not allowed to touch the final product. It’s all student-created and student-driven.” In the end, the FWCD robot passed inspection and was cleared for competition on the following day, October 21.
“One of the things I asked the students was ‘Are we here to play to play, or are we here to play to win?” McKnight shared. “Because of the levels of competition, this was an important conversation to have with the kids. Ultimately, they decided that since we are still a young and inexperienced team and this is a learning process, it was more important to play to play -- to experience the competition and to watch other teams and really learn.”
The competition consisted of eight matches, completing such tasks as bringing a small mannequin to a safe zone from a high-rise fire, putting out a “fire” using golf balls as simulated water. While those teams competing to win the competition chose fewer drivers, FWCD’s team chose to utilize nine drivers: Bullock, Chan, Cole, De, Hammett, Heine, Hoppe, Mayhue and Morgan.
“I was proud of the kids,” McKnight said. “There was a nice mix of students at all experience levels, and they held their own and came away learning a lot.”
McKnight commented on watching a particular team from Penelope High School with an enrollment of 191 students in their school. “These kids were fascinating to watch, and you could tell that they grew up fixing things,” he said. “Ultimately, they won the competition. It’s always nice to see the underdog win.”
While this is the only competition the FWCD Upper School Robotics Club will see this year, the club will join forces with the Science Olympiad in the spring semester, thanks to Rooker and Upper School Science Teacher Christy Alvear, who have resurrected this competition for the School and asked the Robotics Club to help with the technology side of the Olympiad.
“I love this mesh,” McKnight shared. “This involvement will allow the students an opportunity to learn more and build upon their current knowledge and hopefully take away some ideas for future robotics competitions.”
About Cowtown BEST
Cowtown BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology) is a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization whose mission is to inspire students to pursue professional careers in engineering, science and technology through participation in a sports-like science and engineering-based robotics competition. BEST started in 1993 in Dallas and now boasts 50 hubs and four regions of competition. The Cowtown BEST hub joined the BEST family in 2001.
There is no charge to the students or the schools to participate in the BEST program. Instead, donations from corporations and/or colleges and universities make BEST happen. Lockheed Martin has been a major sponsor of Cowtown BEST and has continued its generous sponsorship year after year.
About the Texas Science Olympiad
The Texas Science Olympiad is a rigorous academic interscholastic competition that consists of a series of individual and team events that students (grades 6-12) prepare for during the year. The competitions follow the format of popular board games, TV shows and athletic games. These challenging and motivational events are well balanced between the various science and engineering disciplines of biology, earth science, chemistry, physics, computer and technology. There is also a balance between events requiring knowledge of facts, concepts, processes, skills and science applications. 
4200 Country Day Lane, Fort Worth, TX 76109
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Fort Worth Country Day (FWCD) is a K-12 private, independent, coeducational, nondenominational college-preparatory school located on approximately 100 acres in Fort Worth, Texas. The mission of Fort Worth Country Day School is to foster the intellectual, physical, emotional, and ethical development of capable students through an academically rigorous college preparatory program that integrates the arts and athletics.