Local robotics teams headed to state at Lucas Oil Stadium

Immanuel Lutheran School and Trinity Lutheran High School have become fixtures at the Indiana VEX Robotics State Championship.

Again this year, teams from the Seymour schools have qualified for the big stage.

A few other Jackson County schools will be joining them Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

In its first year of robotics, Brownstown Elementary School has a team of four fifth-graders that recently learned it qualified for state. Also competing in the elementary division will be a homeschool team based in Brownstown, and Seymour Middle School is sending two duos for the first time.

TechPoint Foundation for Youth is hosting the annual event at the home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. It will feature more than 250 teams.

Immanuel’s elementary duos are Ben Dyer and Zach Lister (520A), Emersyn Dailey and Daniel Neawedde (520D), Adam Alberring and Christopher Pumphrey (520G), Brady Hageman and Lucas Otte (520H), Aaron Abner and Corbin Adair (520K) and Noah Overgaard and Zander Hopkins (520M).

The Immanuel middle school team is siblings Lauren and Daniel Bode (520R), and Trinity’s team is Conner Sims and Simeon Bauman (1483S).

Brownstown will have Lucas McPike, Keaton Peters, Mason Huff and Isaiah Jonothan (56048A) competing Saturday.

They competed in two tournaments at Immanuel this year, and their runner-up finish in the second one Feb. 26 qualified them for state.

“You couldn’t wipe the smile off their faces once they found out that we were going to Lucas Oil. They were all super pumped,” said Jamie Temple, who coaches the team with fellow fifth grade teacher Mary Cobb.

The school received grant money in 2020 to get one robot and for Temple to take a robotics class. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she just had students in her fifth grade class build a robot and learn how to drive it last school year.

“Then this year hit and I was like, ‘We’re going to try it. Sports are going. We’re good,’” she said of putting a team together and entering tournaments.

Signups in September netted 12 students, and due to other obligations, only eight have stuck with it, spending nearly two hours after school Tuesdays and Thursdays working with their robots.

Both teams placed in the top five out of 20 teams in the first tournament. The top 18 teams out of 40 in the second one moved to the finals, and BES had a team advance and hold the highest score until the last round.

“We realized at our first tournament that the autonomous driving skills that we didn’t dabble into yet added points to use, so we really came back and said, ‘OK, what can we do to do better?’” Temple said. “I said, ‘Let’s really try to focus on the programming,’ and they just took off with it.”

Two days after the tournament, Temple received an email letting her know the team qualified for state and shared the good news with the students and Cobb.

“We’re really good at communication, and I’ve really enjoyed this because I’ve made some new friends that I never thought I would be friends with,” Peters said. “We just work really well together at pointing out what to do on the boards.”

In robotics, it’s not only important to have good communication with your own teammates, but working with the team from another school each round is crucial, too.

“For our first competition, we worked pretty well with the other team,” Peters said. “We communicated pretty well, telling them where we were going to start and asking them where they were going to start and getting it all worked out.”

His teammates agreed.

“We’re really good about working together and scoring a lot of points, and working together with other teams, you can make new friends,” Huff said.

“Making new friends, it’s fun,” Jonothan said.

Cobb said the students had to do some research and take the robots apart a few times to make them better, and it was great to watch the kids figure it all out.

“I think the kids learned a lot just doing that, just understanding how it works, because at first, it was like a bunch of directions to us and we didn’t really understand the end goal,” she said. “Then as it went along, to see what the goal was and how all of the measures and stuff work together, we started understanding how it actually did work. The kids actually were able to put in a lot more of their own self into it because they understood what they needed to do.”

It was a lot of work and time-consuming, but Temple said, “Now that we’re at the end goal, it was worth every bit of it.”

In the middle school division, Seymour will be represented by Leo Holle and Gavin Burnside (3138D) and Micah Yee and Nikita Cox (3138B).

Holle and Burnside competed at state in elementary school, while Yee and Cox are in their first year of robotics, coach Amy Jo Miller Kuzel said. All four boys are seventh-graders.

Kuzel said SMS participated in four qualifying competitions at Immanuel.

Yee and Cox qualified for state for their high scores in December and they were programming their robots autonomously, while Holle and Burnside placed first in the finals Feb. 26 to qualify for state.

“The teams started out building a simple fling bot, which was like a catapult,” Kuzel said. “This bot was ineffective, so the teams started rebuilding their bots to have a flywheel and combine type bots. Leo and Gavin’s combine type bot was a success and earned them their state slot. Micah and Nikita started out with a fling bot, as well, and quickly realized that a simple and effective push bot with the right programming got them the points they needed to earn state.”

Kuzel said it has been an honor working with the students.

“Leo and Gavin came in with a great amount of knowledge from being in robotics four-plus years. They work independently and lead with their expertise in this sport. They were on my sixth grade team last year and won awards then, too. They were the top team in the group,” she said.

“Micah and Nikita, I hand-selected and paired together,” she said. “I knew these boys from sixth grade, and their programming skills were outstanding. They both are team players and always willing to help others. These two boys hit the ground running and caught up to speed with how these robots work almost instantly.”

All four boys made it easy to coach, Kuzel said.

“Because their personalities mesh together, they know what it means to be a leader as well as a team player, and their intellectual knowledge in robot mechanics and programming just blended to make a very successful team,” she said.

For state, the boys are focusing on their game strategy and rewriting their autonomous programs to have maximum points in hopes to qualify for the world competition.

“Foremost, I am looking forward to them doing their best and having fun. These boys worked hard for this opportunity and have built lasting friendships,” Kuzel said. “What is amazing about this competition is that there are hundreds of students across Indiana that are potentially going into the fields of mechanical, computer and electrical engineering, and this is an opportunity of a lifetime for these youth to start networking with their future peers.”

If you go 

What: Indiana VEX Robotics State Championship

When: 10:15 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday (doors open at 9 a.m.; opening ceremony at 9:30 a.m.)

Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, 500 S. Capitol Ave., Indianapolis

Who: More than 250 elementary, middle and high school teams from across the state will be competing; the event is open to the public

Information: Watch online at techpointyouth.org/streaming