Brethren, Bear Lake robotics teams to open season in Muskegon

MANISTEE COUNTY — Robotics is one of those unique competitive events where high school students spend months working countless hours preparing their robots for competition.

Brethren Robotics coach Tracy Hofacker watches as team members Eric Grismore and Markus Jacobs make adjustments to the team robot.

This year was especially challenging to the Brethren and Bear Lake high school robotics teams because an inordinate number of snow days took away from the time to fine-tune their robots. However, that loss of practice time just seemed to inspire them even more.

Brethren coach Mitchell Knoll said his team really responded to the challenge.

“Despite the high level of snow days this year our team has been able to construct our best robot yet,” said Knoll. “The students came in for extra long days on Saturdays to make up for the lost time.”

Bear Lake coaches John Prokes and Steve Gomez both said the snow days did take a toll, but the students worked extra hard to prepare for the Muskegon Robotics Competition on Friday and Saturday at Muskegon Orchard View High School.

A total of 40 teams from all over the state will be competing to a theme of  “Destination Space,” and the robots will be tasked to earn points collecting balls to be placed in a cargo ship or rockets and placing hatch panels over open cargo doors. Matches can be viewed live at firstinmichigan.us/FRC/webcasts/.

“Once again Mr. Gomez has put in a tremendous amount of time mentoring and teaching our students about the effort that goes into designing and building a robot for competition,” said Prokes. “We have one of our largest rosters ever in our four years of robotics with 12 students, but with other commitments like work, basketball, play practice and other commitments, were luck to have three or four students working on it at one time. However, despite the present obstacles we are ready to compete.”

Gomez agreed and said they are excited about this weekend’s competition.

“We are looking forward to seeing how our robot performs and what the other teams have designed,” he said.

The Brethren robot has some added features this year, according to Knoll, that should make it highly competitive.

“It has a claw on the front which will be used to grab onto the ball or hatch panel for delivery,” said Knoll. “We also have the ability to lift items higher than we’ve been able to before with the three-stage elevator system. Our biggest strength is that we are pretty versatile on what we can work on during the match as we can go for high or low goals and deliver both objects.”

Another plus is all the extra work brought the robot together quicker and gave them some additional practice time.

“We are very excited and proud because the full system was operational before the stop build day, so we actually had a chance to practice before our first competition,” Knoll said. “Based on our practices, we have more ideas for small improvements we want to make to optimize things before Friday.”

Knoll is hoping for a good effort in Muskegon.

“This is the first of two qualifying events which can be used to make it to the state finals,” said Knoll. “The second is in Traverse City on April 5 and 6. If we do well here we have a good chance of making it to the state event.”

Brethren team members this year include Caleb Franz, Jacob Hofacker, Markus Jacobs, Riannon Gillis, Eric Grismore, Erica Feller, Will Pasqualone, Eddy Fitzgerald and Justin Moore.

Prokes said his team is really excited about getting their first taste of competition this season.

“The program is always a tough challenge for our students, but also one of the most rewarding,” he said.

Bear Lake team members include seniors Alyssa Eisenlohr, John Evans, Kyle Fink, Kevin Groll, Curtis Kennedy, Faith Kidd, sophomores Trever Eisenlohr, Edward Fairchild, Pax Nguyen (from Vietnam), Obey Thitisublert (from Thailand), freshmen Megan Gydesen, T.J. Freeman and eighth grade students Bryce Tracy.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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