By Jacob Sturm
Mustang Robotics Teams from Mustang High School and Mustang North Middle School traveled to Oklahoma State University to compete in the State robotics competition, and succeeded with solid finishes in the competition.
Rhoda Swan, the STEM Robotics & STEM Coding Teacher at Mustang North Middle School, said her group had never placed this well in competition since she began teaching the class four years ago.
All of Mustang Public Schools have teams competing in the FIRST, with students who are competing in the FIRST Lego League (utilized in the robotics classrooms to help teach the material), FIRST Tech Challenge (7th Grade to 12th Grade age range), and the FIRST Robotic Challenge (High School and College students only). Mustang has High School teams that are competing in the FRC level this weekend.
Mustang North Middle School has two teams, Central Middle School has a team and Mustang High School has five teams competing in the Western League, which is a small tournament of 32 teams where the top 10 scores are counted. One of MNMS’s teams won the Western League competition and one of the High School’s teams also advanced to State along with them.
“I’ve been teaching this class now for four years and we have never placed this well,” Swan said. “We usually placed in the lower 20’s in most of the competitions we went to, and this year we went into all of our competitions and we were ending up in the top half every single time. They just improved and kept working every single time.”
Robotics tournaments are unique in that participants aren’t competing alone, but are instead placed onto teams with another group to form an alliance. That means teams can be placed with the best of the tournament for one round and go against them the next round.
Likewise, if a teammate’s robot has a problem, the partner suddenly has to score all the points for the alliance to win.
“The whole idea is called gracious professionalism, which is that we’re all stronger if we all succeed and we all get better,” Swan said. “So, it’s been awesome for us because we would show up and in many cases we were the only middle school. We were the only ones with seventh graders and these high school teams would see us and be like ‘Hey, we noticed you were having some problems’ and they would just come over and help you. So, all day long the dynamic of teams is helping each other and trying to get better… I’ve coached basketball. I’ve coached volleyball and done a lot of those things. This is a very different way of having teams compete.”
Swan said her groups went in and held their own. The groups weren’t just accepting help from the high school teams, but were offering help during the competition. Swan said that is a big deal.
Melissa Wilson, a parent of a MNMS robotics student, said this was the first year her son has been in the robotics program. Others on the MNMS team were in their first years working together in robotics. That meant the State contest experience would have been one of their first at that level.
“I was really impressed with all the teamwork from other schools, from other teams in general,” Wilson said. “There was never a moment where it wasn’t about the kids and about the robots. The middle school itself has been amazing since we started… Overall, it was a great experience. We had so much support from other parents at the competition, even that weren’t with our team. So, it was really great.”
At State, the MNMS qualifying team (Blazing Broncos) finished 22nd and Swan said both of her teams finished top 3 in the Innovate Award given for unique designs for robotics. The Nightmares (Mustang High School’s team) finished 10th.
“They had a terrific season,” Swan said. “Both teams really did so well this year.”
Robotics is a yearlong competition, with students now working on recruiting others to join. There are two practices almost every week. Challenges for the year are released in September, and students then begin designing and building for those specific challenges.
There is always a need for people to come and help through volunteering. Swan said the tasks where volunteers are needed doesn’t require anyone to know about how to do robotics, but is more about being willing to show up and show interest in the community.
Mustang High School hosts plenty of other schools involved in the Western League for example. Swan said for those interested, they can go to the FIRST website and volunteer through that. Now it’s just a matter of continued funding to help support the program.
“We’ve spent millions of dollars on technology and robotics to get these in our kids hands,” Swan said. “They are flourishing in it. They just take it and run. They’re in a really good place. They’re in a really good school system to have access to those things.”