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BCHS students win robotics competition

A trip to the workshop for the High Scalers, the robotics team at Boulder City High School in 2024 was much like a visit in 2023. Stuff used to make and practice with the robots built by the team everywhere, six or seven kids gathered there after school and a faculty advisor ensconced in the back of the room at a desk.

The difference in that year was that about half of the team members were new this year and that, while they came in fourth in the 2023 championships, they won in 2024.

“Last year in the championships, we finished in fourth place,” said holdover Ben Porter. “This year, we were on the championship alliance, so we won.”

The competition is put on by a group called FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), an international non-profit that has been sponsoring competition since the late 1980s —well before any of the current High Scalers were born.

It’s robotics, not a game played with a ball so, perhaps inevitably, winning and losing is not a simple question of scoring more points than an opponent. Maeli McNary, another holdover from the 2023 team explained, “One of the big differences is that last year we were the alliance captains and this year we were the first alternate on the championship alliance.”

Faculty advisor Garth Schultz laid it all out in a Class In Session column that ran in a recent edition of the Review. “The theme of this year’s game is Crescendo, which is based on a concert. The robots compete in teams of three, called alliances, to place foam rings, called notes, in either an amp or a speaker. At the end of the match, robots climb onto a chain to earn extra points.”

It turns out that Porter is more than just a holdover and may be the unofficial team recruiter. Newcomer Landon Cook said, “I got into this mainly because of Ben. He kind of peer-pressured me into it.”

When asked if he was the recruiter, Porter smiled and admitted, “I have been trying to get him to join for a couple of years now.”

Cook, a junior, interjected, “I really did enjoy it and I am thinking about doing it next year again.”

And Cook is not alone. Bennet Forney, a sophomore, also plans to be back. “I loved robotics,” he said. “I mostly do the coding (Python) so I get to learn a lot about that, especially with the two mentors that help. I get to apply that next year in some of my classes and I’m looking forward to it.”

McNary, also a junior who plans to be back, is the most talkative of the group and seems to function as in informal spokesperson. “Each year it’s a new challenge. This year we had to do a climb at the end, so we couldn’t have a very tall robot like we did last year. We went for something kind of small that could fit in all of the obstacles and be light enough to pull up on the chain. So we had a very compact design this year, where last year we kind of built up.”

After some inter-team chatter debating the height of that climb (the consensus was about two feet), McNary continued. “This year we were shooting into goals and there were three different goals,” she explained. “One you had to climb and then put the ring into a flat box on the wall that had a covering over it; you had to push the covering in and then drop the ring into the box.”

Like a trash can?

“Yes, like a trash can,” she said.

Turns out that was a tough obstacle and the High Scalers were the first team to do it successfully. Not just the first team in this competition. They were the first team in the world to successfully do it.

Schultz, who is a 1986 BCHS graduate, longtime teacher and coach of the bowling team, took on the role of faculty advisor to the High Scalers nine years ago.

“As the faculty advisor of the FIRST team, I am the liaison between the team and the school,” he said. “My duties include writing grants, fundraising, travel plans, and controlling the budget. I also have input on the design and build of the robot.”

He calls his time with the team, “one of the most fulfilling aspects of my teaching career,” adding that it is an amazing experience to see what students can accomplish with limited resources and then go to a competition with 45 or more teams from all over the world, and and see them doing the same kinds of things.

“I’ve coached sports for over 30 years, won and lost state championships, had players go to college, and a couple get drafted,” Schultz said. “However, the effect robotics has on these students is exponentially better than sports. Robotics is the sport where they can all go pro. We have several success stories from students who participated on the team, and not just mechanical engineers. We have automotive mechanics, electricians, aerospace and civil engineers, analytics, programmers, and the list goes on. There is something for everyone in the program.”

Students who compete in FIRST robotics are able to apply for scholarships that are only available to FIRST students and Schultz says his dream is to get more students and mentors involved.

“This, unfortunately, takes time and money,” he said. “BCHS is great to us, but we are not a CTA (Career and Technology Academy, a designation mostly for magnet schools) school. So, we have limited funds. We work from donations and fundraising. We have limited space on campus and get eight to 12 students a year who work with us. Many teams have budgets 10 times our size, 40 to 60 students, and 10 to 15 mentors. They work in a wing of their school. For our size and budget, we compete well. However, we cannot beat the teams with hundreds of thousands of dollars in machining equipment and support from endowments from major sponsors. We appreciate every penny that we get from the small businesses and private donations in Boulder City. I am a graduate of BCHS and feel that this is the best place to live and teach. Without the support we get, there would not be a team. However, to make the jump to the next level, we need support. If anyone would like to make a donation or become a sponsor, reach out to me at the high school.”

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