by the Opelika Observer staff


Opelika varsity and junior varisty boys soccer coach Chad Smith tried to kickoff his team’s season like many other coaches would: a ‘Welcome to the Team’ banquet party for his 34 athletes.

After the boys and theri families enjoyed a meal, Smith got up to give a speech laying out his goals for the team this season.

“Whether they play soccer or not,” Smith said, “I care about the fact that they are pressured into valuing academic success.”

To achieve that goal, Smith announced to his teams that each player had to have a least a ‘C’ in every single class – not the cumulative ‘C’ average required for most high school athletics.

“A ‘D’ in any class and we have ‘Soccer Study Hall’ they have to come to,” Smith said. “It’s not for punishment, but I get in touch with the teachers and try to help them with assignments.” Smith holds Soccer Study Hall Wednesdays after school.

To Smith, coaching is about more than winning or statistics on the field. To him, character education and a continued emphasis on academics are more important to develop in his young players.

“I want them to be respected young men capable of having integrity,” Smith said. “We’re trying to teach them to be leaders, and if you develop leaders, they’ll be more committed and more determined. If they’re more determined, they’ll practice better and, hopefully, we’ll win more games.”

Smith said he wants to instill the value of learning in his team members; he said that though some may not play soccer after high school, a focus on academics can help them have the futures they want to have.

Smith grew up in Somerville, Ala., graduating from A.P. Brewer before getting a degree in zoology from Auburn in 2008. Smith said he’s played soccer continuously since he was around 6- to 8-years-old, starting off in rec league.

“There was no club league where I’m from, but I did school soccer,” Smith said.

Smith said he doesn’t claim to be like Pele, and joked some ofthe students he coaches are better than him.

“I know the game well and feel completely confident to teach the game, even if I can’t execute some plays as well as some of my students,” Smith said.

Smith’s colleagues in the science department say he’s committed to helping all of his students, not just the athletes under his command.

“He always makes himself available to his students for whatever they need,” science teacher Betsy Gore said. “He does whatever he can to help, and goes above and beyond what he’s asked to do.”

While the first game of the season begins Feb. 11 and Smith isn’t allowed to formally begin practice until January, he and the teams are working on conditioning throughout the fall – even playing ultimate frisbee to help get them into shape and teach them to have fun and work together.

“I want people to know that Opelika soccer is not just about winning games,” Smith said. “We are about attitude, leadership and growing young men and women.”

Smith said that commitment means he won’t be afraid to bench even star players for what he sees as attitude problems, such as talking back to a coach or arguing with a referee.

“We’re willing to make decisions that sacrifice a point or two to value character,” Smith said.

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OHS students creating helpful robot

by Cliff McCollum

News Editor


These days, Oreo isn’t just a delicious creme-filled chocolate cookie – it’s the acronym for a new robotics company that’s been started by the more than 20 Opelika High School students – the Opelika Robotics and Engineering Organization.

Their robot, the appropriately-named Cookie I, is designed to be a space elevator that will “provide a safe and efficient method to transport materials,” according to the group’s website, found at

The Cookie I has a fully-usable arm that can be used to grab and move materials. The robot uses a winch system to move up and down the space elevator.

Co-CEOs and sophomores Manan Patel and Keiran Broadley said the main challenge they saw was how to get the robot to climb the 10-foot pole.

“We wanted to have something with spokes,” Broadley said, “but we found out that would be impossible.” Patel nodded in agreement, adding it would have been a “disaster” had they gone through with the idea.

By implementing the winch system, Broadley and Patel said they make use of a nylon rope and two small motors to help move the robot in the way the CEOs and programmers deem the “most efficient.”

While the team has spent hours on research and design for the robot and its platform, the team was still making modifications and necessary changes – even with the looming threat of Saturday’s robotics competition to be held in Smiths Station.

Senior programmer Dakota Ogle spent most of his afternoon Tuesday creating and continuously changing the programs that would be necessary to make the Cookie I be able to do the tasks it claims it can do.

Ogle said he started creating the program Tuesday, claiming the process was an easy setup. Ogle said he and his team had only encountered one problem thus far – a corrupt file that he said would “take five, 10 minutes to fix.”

“The most interesting part has not only been to build the robot, but to work with a team and share ideas,” Ogle said. “Learning to communicate is the thing that helps the most – to share ideas effectively and to put those ideas to the test with teammates. That’s what has helped me the most.”

Throughout the process of developing the robot, programming and design have not been the only focuses for these intrepid students: they have also had a “marketing team” hard work – figuring out a way to market the Cookie I robot.

Ogle said there has been a good deal of collaboration between the marketing and design teams, joking that there was a “constant bombardment” of new ideas and possible tweaks and upgrades to the Cookie I.

Ogle hopes that what he calls “a real-world experience with starting and working at a business” will translate to the collegiate level, as he hopes to pursue a mechanical engineering degree at Auburn upon graduation.

Marketing director and junior Anna Lazenby said her team started out by working on basic items a fledgling company would need – t-shirts and a logo for the company, to name a few, but they’ve recently been working on the exhibition.

“Tim Gore helped us build our booth, and we’ve spent the last two days painting and trying to get it ready for the exhibition,” Lazenby said, hands covered in red paint from a recent second coating to one of the booth’s panels. “We’ve got cups ordered with our O.R.E.O logos, we’ve got fliers and buttons. We’re ready.”

The booth is designed to look like an old-style elevator, attempting to highlight the Cookie I’s usage as a “space elevator.”

While this is the third year the Robotics Club has existed at OHS, students said this year was the first year they have entered this competition.

The students say though they may be the newest competitors, they’re ready for the task.

“We’re going to put our knowledge to the test, and we’re going to win it,” Ogle said, with a smirk. “No matter what problems have come up, we’ve always been able to come together and solve them. We’re a strong team, and that will carry us to victory.”

Students were also quick to thank the local businesses and teachers who have helped sponsor the project.

Donaldson FIltration Solutions, Southern Union State Community College, Viper Motorcycle Company and Hometown Ford all helped sponsor the team financially; science teachers Karen Bush, Kate Madzar, Betsy Gore and Chad Smith all helped advise the team.


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Recent AYP results examined during Opelika school board meeting

by the Opelika Observer staff


While much ballyhoo and bold headlines were made of the Opelika City Schools’ lack of adequate adequate yearly progress (AYP) scores from the state, OCS assistant superintendent Brenda Rickett took time during Tuesday’s school board meeting to explain the scores and put their meaning in context.

The system met all but one of the 25 goals at the third through fifth grade span, failing to make AYP in reading for the special education subgroup, though only two of the 62 special education students in the subgroup were found to be “not proficient.”

Opelika Middle School had similar issues, meeting 22 of 23 goals, but not making AYP in the special education subgroup, again with only two of 75 students scoring “not proficient” on the high-stakes tests.

Rickett said while the scores were not as high as the system had hoped, the special education subgroup at both schools had made great strides over the last few years, citing a rise in proficiency percentages across the board in reading scores – including a rise in 6th grade scores from 37.5 percent in 2008 to 60.8 percent last year.

At Opelika High School, 17 of 20 goals were met, with the free/reduced meals, black and all students subgroups not making AYP in reading. AYP was met in mathematics for all subgroups.

Again, Rickett pointed to the percentage changes in those subgroups as a sign of progress, with the free/reduced meal subgroup seeing a 7 percent higher pass rate than in 2008.

Superintendent Mark Neighbors said that while some students did not do well on the graduation exams their 11th grade year, the school’s pass rate was much higher for seniors, with a 92 percent pass rate for this year’s senior class compared with the 83 percent pass rate the school earned while those students were juniors.

Board members questioned Rickett and Neighbors on whether the school’s higher concentration of students with special needs was a factor in the AYP results.

Both Rickett and Neighbors said that while Opelika does have a higher number of students with special needs than its neighboring systems, school officials are reluctant to put more of those students on a different track to achieve an Alabama Occupational Diploma (AOD), given to students who fail to pass the necessary portions of the Alabama High School Graduation Exam.

“If a child cannot pass the high school graduation exam, they cannot graduate with a standard diploma,” Rickett said. “The AOD diploma does not count toward graduation, and it also does not provide the same weight when a child is looking for jobs.”

It is for that reason, Rickett explained, that the Opelika system is careful about assigning students to Alabama Alternate Assessment (AAA) instead of the Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test (ARMT), which leads to a standard diploma.

“We are very, very careful because once we say they’re going to be on AAA, we have set a course for them that will be hard to turn back from, and we want to give every child  every chance possible to get a standard diploma, even if it means our test scores may not look as good as everyone else’s,” Rickett said.

Rickett added that in the coming year, the state of Alabama hoped to implement its own system for monitoring schools’ progress and that the state department of education was currently working on its new measurement system.

During the rest of the board meeting, Neighbors announced a motion to dismiss had been