In its first official year of having a robotics team, Immanuel Lutheran School isn’t holding back.
On March 10, 13 of 36 team members competed in the Indiana VEX Robotics State Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
With more than 10,000 people in attendance, it’s the largest robotics state championship in the country, providing an experience unlike any the students have ever had before.
There were more than 2,500 elementary, middle school and high school-aged students on nearly 300 teams competing in roughly 1,900 individual robotics matches taking place on 50 different fields.
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For most students, it would be intimidating.
But instead of battling a learning curve, the Immanuel Warriors Robotics Team set the bar for everyone else, walking away with the competition’s highest honors and qualifying students for both the national and world competitions.
“There wasn’t a person there that would have guessed it was their first year,” said team coach Dallas Goecker, who also picked up the state’s Mentor of the Year award. It was the second time he has received the honor. He also started the robotics team at Trinity Lutheran High School.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the duo of Ethan Alberring and Myles Chandler, both fifth-graders. They ended up ranked ninth after eight preliminary qualifying rounds but finished first in their division and walked away as VEX IQ Elementary Indiana state champions.
They won their final match by one point, 170-171, when Chandler pulled off a match-winning maneuver, leaving them both speechless.
“At the last second, I dropped it in the corner for one point,” he said.
Played on a 4-by-8-foot rectangular field, the object of this year’s Ringmaster challenge is to attain the highest score by using the robot to pick up colored rings and put them on posts. Students work in teams of two, each taking a turn with the controller to operate the robot.
Since the beginning of the school year, the students have worked together to build their robots and program them to complete the challenge.
The state title means Alberring and Chandler qualified to compete in the world championships April 25 to May 1 in Louisville, Kentucky.
The national competition is currently taking place in Omaha, Nebraska, and ends Wednesday. Immanuel students attending nationals are Ben McClure and Brad Dyer, Mitchell Mellencamp and Jack Mellencamp (filling in for Kade Gillaspy, who qualified but is unable to make the trip) and Trevor Goecker and Ross Pumphrey.
The state win wasn’t what either Alberring or Chandler was expecting in their first year of robotics.
“We were just glad that we made it to state,” Alberring said.
To compete at the state, the team had to do well at local and regional events. Besides Immanuel, Cortland Elementary School and Trinity Lutheran High School were the only other schools in Jackson County to make it to the state level.
Dallas Goecker said he is glad to see robotics expanding to other schools, even if they didn’t get to go to the state competition.
Immanuel’s team was made possible through grant money from Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing Inc. and Jackson County Industrial Development Corp., along with financial support from students’ families.
It’s cost around $16,000 to get the team up and running and competing, Dallas Goecker said.
Alberring said he joined the team because of his friends, Trevor Goecker, who is the son of Dallas Goecker, and Ross Pumphrey. They competed in robotics last year on their own.
“I decided I might as well try it for one year to see if I liked it,” Alberring said.
They never dreamed they’d have so much fun while learning about robotics and pick up a state championship along the way. They also earned a trophy that stands taller than they do.
“It was very competitive,” Chandler said of the event.
Both Alberring and Chandler also were excited about the opportunity to be on the field level of Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Indianapolis Colts play football.
But they admit to being a little nervous when the spotlight was on them.
There are 900 officially registered elementary VEX robotics teams in the state, and Immanuel has the biggest team of them all, Dallas Goecker said.
Trevor Goecker and Ross Pumphrey, also fifth-graders, qualified for worlds this year, too. Others going to worlds are Jack Mellencamp and Elijah Tempest.
At the state competition, Trevor and Ross were ranked first after preliminaries but ended up finishing seventh in their division. However, because their robot was the top-performing entry during the early rounds, the team earned the Amaze Award.
The Immanuel team practices twice a week for two hours. During that time, they tweak their designs and programming and compete against each other in order to get better.
When not competing, Alberring said it was fun to watch other teams at state to see how they did and get ideas of how to improve their robots.
It was also an opportunity to make friends with kids from other schools who are interested in robotics.
The biggest lesson the students have learned from being involved in robotics is you have to fail, oftentimes more than once, in order to succeed.
“It’s a lot of trial and error,” Alberring said.
That lesson isn’t always easy for students to take, Dallas Goecker added.
“We have an environment that promotes kids to get straight A’s,” he said. “Some kids have never learned how to fail.”
He tries to get them not to seek confirmation first for something they think will work.
“They’re afraid to try because they are afraid to fail,” he said. “In the real world, there is no teacher telling you that this is the right thing to do in life, so they have to try and just make sure their failures aren’t devastating. My motto is to fail often but fail fast.”
He said it’s also important for the students to see that they can apply what they are learning in robotics.
“The math and the physics and the science that they learn, they can actually do stuff with that,” he said.
He’s proud of all of the students for their efforts and commitment.
“They all worked hard, challenged and pushed each other to be better and better week after week,” he said. “They didn’t just get lucky. They earned this.”
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Immanuel Lutheran School students competing in the Indiana VEX Robotics State Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on March 10
Dylan Green (eighth grade), Andrew Bell (seventh grade) and Jonathan Barrales (seventh grade): Ranked 29th after qualifying preliminaries
Ben McClure and Brad Dyer (both fifth grade): Ranked 25th after preliminaries. Have qualified for nationals.
Mitchell Mellencamp and Kade Gillaspy (both fifth grade): Ranked ninth after preliminaries. Finished eighth in their division. Have qualified for nationals.
Trevor Goecker and Ross Pumphrey (both fifth grade): Ranked first after preliminaries. Finished seventh in their division. Earned the Amaze Award for the team with the top-performing robot. Qualified for the world championship and have qualified for nationals.
Jack Mellencamp and Elijah Tempest (both third grade): Ranked third after preliminaries. Finished fifth in their division. Qualified for the World Championship.
Ethan Alberring and Myles Chandler (both fifth grade): Ranked ninth after preliminaries. Finished first in their division and finished first in the state. Qualified for the world championship.
Dallas Goecker: Indiana Mentor of the Year
Other team members: include Jonathan Neawedde and Alex Overgaard (fourth grade); Gabriella Parisi (sixth grade) and Lauren Bode (fourth grade); Benjamin Neawedde and Brooke Knieriem (sixth grade); Ryan Kleman (eighth grade); Trevor Alberring and Hunter Heckman (seventh grade); Conner Sims (eighth grade); Gavin Grimes (seventh grade); Liza Vaughn and Trista Wischmeier (third grade); Rylan Adair (third grade) and Gavin Wessel (fourth grade); Jonah Knollman and Lane Kleber (third grade); Kelsie Napier and Sam Dyer (third grade); Merrek Combs and Bryson Baker (third grade); and Jada Barker and Rowan Sharp (fourth grade)