Coronado robotics reigns
Dominating triumph at Denver qualifies team for international championship

       Coronado High dominated the competition at the 48-team FIRST Robotics regional event at Denver University March 22-24.

Several members of the 44-student Coronado High robotics team celebrate their victory at the Denver regionals March 24.
Carol Guinta photo

       The victory gave the team - known as Cougars Gone Wired - a berth in the 340-team international championship April 25-28 in St. Louis, Mo.
       The students “were extremely excited,” said Coronado engineering teacher Bryce McLean, who oversees the annual, extracurricular activity in which team members build a robot to compete against other schools. “You never expect to be number one the entire time, but they did it. They were truly the strongest team at the competition.”
       The game this year was a form of basketball, called “Rebound Rumble.” Teams could score points by having their robots shoot baskets or balance on a board. Shooting was the forte of Coronado's robot, formally named 2996 but nicknamed this year as “Rough Draft.” Developing a computerized targeting device - along with a mechanism to efficiently scoop balls from the floor - the students got so good at Rough Draft putting balls in the hoop that one could imagine the playoff-desperate Denver Nuggets giving a call.
       With the victory, “we were ecstatic,” said Jasmine Kemble, a senior who has been the school's student robotics leader (her official title is CEO) for the past two years. “There aren't really any good words to describe it. It was pure excitement and happiness.”
       This is the fourth year that Coronado has built a robot to compete in a game - it's a different one each year - created by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a nonprofit organization that seeks to encourage young engineers. The robotics template also leads students to organize their teams like businesses and get out in in the community to fundraise, find sponsors, be role models for younger kids and work with adult subject experts who serve as their mentors.
       Coronado had also won the Denver regional in 2009 (the team's first year), but that occurred mainly because the school was able to ally itself with a stronger team, McLean said. This year, Coronado wound up seeded number one of the top eight schools after the qualifying rounds and then, heading up a three-team alliance, went unbeaten in the best-of-three-game matches leading up to the finals, where it lost only the second game.
       Ironically, McLean said, the dominant team that Coronado allied with in 2009 was a school from Lancaster, Calif. This year, Lancaster played the support role for Coronado.
       According to both McLean and Kemble, a big key to Coronado's success this year was building a duplicate robot. Under the FIRST rules, a team has only six weeks each year to build a machine, after which it has to be “bagged” until actual competition. Having a duplicate allowed Coronado to practice Rebound Rumble longer and to fine-tune mechanical issues that came up. After Rough Draft was allowed to come out of the bag for the regional event, team members were able to match it up mechanically with the practice robot.
       A side effect of the duplication strategy was that Coronado robotics students - along with teachers and other adult mentors - had to work even harder than in past years. McLean counted 11 weeks in all of staying after school, typically Mondays through Fridays until 8 p.m. and then all day Saturdays.

Coronado students (gold shirts at rear right) work the computer devices that control their robot (2996) during the Denver regional.
Carol Guinta photo

       The team members “really kicked it into gear this year,” Kemble said.
       She herself received the FIRST Dean's List award at the regional event, which is given to “only two outstanding students,” according to McLean.
       The next challenge for Cougars Gone Wired is raising money for St. Louis, which McLean calls a “world” championship because it will include teams from at least 16 countries. He said a sponsor has already stepped forward to cover Coronado's $5,000 entry fee, but another $12,000 or more is needed for travel and hotel costs and students themselves will have to cover their food expenses.
       This is the third year Coronado has qualified for St. Louis. The team also went in 2009 for being part of the winning alliance, and last year for earning the Denver event's Chairman's Award, based on community-related work its members had done in the weeks beforehand.

Westside Pioneer article