Thomas Jefferson

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Rock’n Robots

Posted 05/06/2024 by Mattie Brightwell

The TJ robotics team, Sparta Robotica, came in second place in their Arizona regional out of around 50 other teams. photo by McKenzie Perkins

This year marked another incredible milestone for the TJ robotics team, which placed an impressive second place at the Arizona regionals competition.

Not many people can fathom the work it takes to build, code, and learn to drive a fully functional robot in just a few months, but the Thomas Jefferson High School robotics team manages to accomplish just that in order to compete at the regionals they attend yearly. The team, nicknamed Sparta Robotica, spent hours upon hours, including nights after school and long weekends working together to ensure success at their regional competition in Arizona. They certainly achieved this when they cemented a spot among the finalists, scoring second overall out of approximately 50 teams competing. 

This year’s students who participate in not only the class, but Sparta Robotica and First Robotics Competitions (FRC) as well, spent the first semester preparing for their spring season and working up to being able to successfully build and run a fully functional robot by their competition. Ever since their season kickoff on January 6th, the team spent upwards of hundreds of hours per student working on the multiple components that go into building a robot. 

Like many competitions, this yielded a lot of stress for the team as they dealt with setbacks and challenges before their prototype deadline on January 27th; however, through plenty of hard work, team meetings, and creative solutions, the students pulled together and came out with an incredible robot, which they nicknamed Metronome. The name played on the musical theme of the 2024 season, called Crescendo. Senior CAD team lead, Claire Mahoney, elaborated, stating that despite the stress, the season was “by far our best season yet, with the most team work and collaboration. This is the most on schedule and on track we’ve ever been before regionals. This is literally the best we’ve ever performed by miles.” Co-Captain and senior Kegan White agreed, saying that “This season was better than the last because the overall participation was great. Everyone was a lot more engaged and present in what they were doing. We were able to perform at some of our best that we have in years.”

Between mechanical factors, such as wiring, installing motors, or simply just cutting out parts to use, to other important aspects like coding the robot, scouting for competition, or driving the bot through elaborate courses, a lot of hard work went into the season, which resulted in the team’s very close win at their regional in Arizona. After fighting their way through qualifiers and then later the brackets, the team made it to the finale, along with their alliance. An important part of FRC are the alliances formed at competition, which involve three teams working together to score overall. The team’s alliance found themselves head to head with three other teams, and due to penalties from alliance teammates and overall final scores, Sparta Robotica unfortunately lost the final match by one point, coming in second place overall. Regardless of the loss, the team experienced extreme excitement and pride as they carried out their medals. 

“The whole time I was really proud of how we were doing. I was nervous too, especially as I was driving. Seeing how well we were doing with other teams, especially when we got to finals was amazing. It was a feeling I’ve never felt before,” remarked senior and head driver, Asher Frost. He reflected as well on the harder parts of the competition, stating that “the biggest obstacle was definitely overcoming the hardships in general. A lot of feelings, mechanical problems, rules, just kind of like wrestling our way through competition. It was so worth it.” 

Arizona wasn’t the team’s last competition though. After an incredible regional, the team came back to Denver and right back to school. With less than a week before their second regional at Denver University (DU), they put their heads together and began work on repairing and improving the robot, focusing especially on the intake system. “The way that the intake works is that it has a roller with a grippy surgical tube to lead the game-ring through the system. What we ended up doing before DU is adding a third roller, which meant redesigning the intake to function better,” explained Mahoney. 

After much more work, the team packed up again and prepared for another three days of competition at DU. The competition was riveting, with plenty of up and down moments for the team. They faced a few penalties, one of their biggest being for “Tearing Up the Field,” (carpet consumption) with their robot. While the team did not advance past this regional, they’re still extremely happy with how they did this season and emphasize that they intend to only get better in the future. Senior and part time ring-thrower, Evan Escutia, explained that “The Colorado regional itself felt like a second chance to go to worlds and a chance to do better than we did at Arizona. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, but it was incredible to feel the power of our teammates and our audience and all the people who came to support us.”

Team Captain and senior, Sam McPherson, added that, “The biggest win this season for me was seeing the programmers grow. We had the best autonomous system that we’ve ever had and we added a ton of functionality programming-wise to the robot. This year we were able to modify a lot of things so the driver didn’t have to think too much. All they had to do was simply just press a button on the controller to get the robot to do something instead of them having to do it manually.”

As the seniors on the team prepare to graduate, they find themselves working hard to improve the team for the underclassmen that will continue working on it in the future. Many of them plan to come back and mentor the underclassmen, which will provide plenty of help and insight into future competitions. “I want to see the growth in this team and I want to be there to make things better. There’s a lot I didn’t get to do this year that I want to make happen next year,” stated White, who plans to come back to the team in the following years.

The underclassmen find themselves also working hard as the year comes to a close. Freshman and drive-team member Carter Kuhn, expressed that, “being on the drive team was a very great experience to have and it was so cool getting to talk to other teams. The thrill of being on the field was so much fun to experience.” Kuhn got a big opportunity to learn the ropes this season, and he had plenty of people to help him along the way. He plans to continue participating in FRC all four years of high school, stating that, “Asher was one of my biggest mentors. He was the one who taught me how to drive swerve and he just kept getting me hyped up during competition. If there was anyone else, it would be Sam. He’d always give us assignments on build days. Kegan was also always so funny during competition. He kept us on track and he gave me the most heartfelt speeches about FRC. It was like one of those canon events for me. He really inspired me and really wants us to do well in our next few years. Those three made it great for me.” 

 In addition to that, Junior and trap-team lead, Amelie Miller exclaimed that “the most impactful part of the season was getting to know everybody on the team and really forming a connection with those around me.” Miller plans to keep up the hard work next year for her senior season, hopefully maintaining the same amount of rigor and competitiveness that brought them so far this season. “I feel like a really big part of robotics is being able to collaborate and work together to create something that in my opinion is really cool. I really think that because we got so close this year, we will be able to get as far next year and hopefully cement ourselves in the community as a top team,” Miller emphasized. 

The team stands by this season and is incredibly excited for what the next one will bring. With all the knowledge they’ve gained, they expect to do wonderful things in the coming years, and hopefully go on to win even more competitions.