Golf has the Masters. Baseball has the World Series. For devotees of FIRST Robotics, a sports-inspired competitive robotics program for high school students, one of the pinnacles of competition is Chezy Champs. This exclusive off-season robotics event hosted by World Championship Team 254, the Cheesy Poofs, in Silicon Valley typically features the best of the best: of 39 teams accepted for 2021, 26 had previous World Championship titles.
This year, however, this glittering company of robotics talent included a tiny community-based rookie robotics team from Marietta, Georgia, Team 8736, The Mechanisms. With only eight students, three of whom attend Cornerstone Prep, this group pulled off the herculean feat of designing, building, and programming the team’s very first robot in only eight weeks. Cornerstone team members include: Madeleine Odom(12) - Electrical Lead and Drive Team, Brennan Maphet(10) - Build Team, and Micah Maphet (8) - Programming and Electrical Team.
To understand the enormity of this task, it is helpful to know a few things about the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Program. Participating teams of students usually build one new robotic “athlete” a year to play a game designed specifically for that season. The games are large scale, taking up most of a school gym, and usually involve high speeds and game pieces that must be shot or placed to earn points, as well as other challenging skills such as climbing or hanging. At competitions, ever changing “alliances” of three robots compete with opposing alliances in a series of qualification matches. Teams that perform well in the qualifiers form fixed alliances that advance to quarterfinals, semifinals, and ultimately, the event final.
As an October offseason showcase event, Chezy Champs usually occurs after the regular competitive season, which runs from January to May. Teams typically bring the robot they spent all season perfecting. However, due the loss of the entire in-person competition seasons in 2020 and 2021, the game had not changed since 2020, and many teams spent over a year and a half perfecting their designs. As a brand new team for the upcoming 2022 season, The Mechanisms had no 2020 robot. What they did have were students with the crazy dream of building their first robot this fall and applying to Chezy.
Lead Robot Mentor and Cornerstone Prep parent, Joel Odom, put it this way. “This was a complete moonshot. We were in the process of forming a brand new team. Some of us came from a team that was shutting down, so we had a good level of robotic knowledge, but we had no robot. Since the students really wanted to do this, I told them they could apply but I really never expected to be accepted. When we were accepted, I admit to feeling some panic. I had no idea if we could even pull off a working robot in the time we had. The students really had to sell me on trying, but they just weren’t afraid to fail, even on such an elite stage. As one student put it, ‘We will learn a lot more trying and failing than not trying at all.’”
And pull it off, they did. Despite resource limitations, Team 8736 made its debut this past weekend in San Jose, California. Competing with their aptly-named robot “Practice Bot” alongside teams hailing from Israel to Massachusetts, the team received high praise at the event and were selected for the playoffs. Cornerstone Senior Madeleine Odom summarized it this way, “We worked so incredibly hard and pushed through so much to get here. Then, for this one shining weekend we saw our creation work.”
Sometimes, moonshots actually succeed.
Up next, after catching up on their schoolwork and sleep, the team is looking forward to building their second robot and competing again, this time closer to home this winter.
Team 8736 welcomes public, private, and homeschool students. For more information and how you can get involved, please visit their team website at https://www.themechanisms.org/