Opelika Robotics Team Advancing to Worlds
BY WIL CREWS
Opelika’s Greatest Robotics Engineers (O.G.R.E.) competed and won the 2022 FIRST Robotics Orlando Regional on March 12, securing a place in the FIRST World Championship competition in Houston, Texas, on April 20 through 23.
FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”, and Opelika’s O.G.R.E. has been competing in FIRST competitions since 2018. Under the leadership of Opelika High School staff Brenda Howell and Mandi Edwards, this year’s O.G.R.E. team has been working for months to achieve the dream of making it to Worlds. With hard work and financial support from the community and business sponsors, O.G.R.E turned a dream into reality.
“Considering how hard we worked on this, I expected us to get pretty far,” said team captain and senior Kyler Mitchell.
For Mitchell, the team’s participation in regionals signified all the best elements of robotics and reminded him of why he fell in love with club in the first place.
“At first I was like, yeah, Robotics is kind of cool, but I didn’t think too much about it,” Mitchell said as he reflected on his freshman season with O.G.R.E. “But then, we went to our first competition, going from just working on a robot in this workshop to seeing the wide scale, and how many people and how serious this is and how extravagant the robots are … I was hooked.”
After tournaments were canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and held virtually in 2021 for the same reasons, the participation in the Orlando Regional provided a new, unique opportunity to many of the 17-member OHS team.
“I wanted to let all of our new recruits, our team members, experience what it is like to go to a competition,” Mitchell said. “Most of our team is very freshman and sophomore heavy, so they don’t know what it is like to go to a competition. Just to experience what it is to do FIRST robotics, it was just amazing.”
At regionals, the students who worked and built since January showcased their skills with their 98-pound robot named “The Dragon”, beating out nearly 60 other teams for the title of champion. According to the format of the competition, O.G.R.E worked in an “alliance” with two other randomly chosen teams to operate the robots and complete a game that involved picking up and shooting over-sized tennis balls at designated targets.
Partnered with an advantageously-skilled alliance, Opelika’s team focused on defending their competitors as Mitchell steered The Dragon as his alliance worked on hitting their targets.
“Kyler did it very, very well,” Howell said. “If you go back and look at the matches you consistently head the announces talking about O.G.R.E playing some tough defense.”
When the final game was over, the jubilant feelings that flooded the team were almost indescribable, Mitchell said.
“Honestly, it was everything,” he said. “To be just waiting there and to see that banner go up, it just all came out. I didn’t know how to feel. I was excited; I was jumping up and down; to see that go up on the screen, it felt like all our hard work paid off.”
Moving on to worlds, O.G.R.E will have a new alliance and compete against 400 teams from across the world. With just a few team members possessing tournament experience prior to this year’s regionals, Mitchell and company have welcomed the help of mentors from teams past, many of whom still live locally, either working or attending higher learning intuitions.
“All of them are alumni of FIRST robotics,” Mitchell said. “It’s a pretty great resource.”
The progress this year’s O.G.R.E. has been exciting for Howell, who played-down her involvement in the whole process and praised her student’s determination and hard work.
Mandi is amazing,” Howell said. “I couldn’t do it without her; she needs to be recognized too. But I want the attention on the kids. Yes, I monitor, but I am not a programmer and I’ll be the first to tell you that. One of the things I’m most proud of our team for is, when you go to competition and you see the pits, most of them have adults in there. You will not find adults in our pit. The kids have to figure it, out and they do. And they impress me.”
Now, the team will diligently work to perfect the kinks in their Robot and attempt to refine its approach to the game before Worlds arrive in two weeks. Regardless of O.G.R.E’s performance in the competition, the season has been rewarding for all involved and undoubtedly set up O.G.R.E, and its members, for more future success.
“It’s my privilege to work with the kids,” Howell said. “It’s my pleasure to watch them from ninth graders all the way through their senior years. How they change, learn and grow … watching them experience success is fun to see.”