Members of the Marina High School Robotics Club used lady luck and a bit of skill when they finished first in the Las Vegas regional of the FIRST Robotics Competition on April 6. They are now headed to St. Louis for the championships April 25.
The regional win was shared with two other teams: Dos Pueblos High School from Goleta, Calif., and The Waterford School from Sandy, Utah. The two top-seeded teams chose the Vikings, who were in 27th place, to complete their three-team alliance for the playoff rounds, said Brandon Pham, director of public relations for the team.
"Without them, we wouldn't have been able to be where we're at right now," said Thomas Zook, the club advisor and physics teacher at Marina. "What they saw in our team may have been a snap judgment, but without our alliance partners, we wouldn't be where we are."
After being placed with mediocre alliances during the qualifiers and not earning many points, Marina did something to catch Dos Pueblos' and Waterford's attention and earn a spot on their team.
"We still did our part after they picked us. We weren't just standing there and doing nothing," said Kevin Nguyen, driver of Marina's robot. "We were blocking other people's shots and getting in their way."
Teams don't have much time building these hand-made robots, with only six weeks to plan and create them, Pham said.
They were told what game they were playing at the beginning of the year, and from the beginning of January to about the second week of February, they worked diligently with their mentors from Boeing to get their robot ready for the spring.
The father of Robotics Club vice president Arman Afghani is an engineer at Boeing, so he and a few of his co-workers helped the Marina students in building the machine, club president Matt Wallingford said.
"They volunteered twice every week for two hours to help us out and build this robot," Pham said.
The game the teams were playing is called Ultimate Ascent. It calls for the robots to shoot flying discs into slots of varying heights — the higher the goal, the greater the points, according to FIRST's website.
Eight alliances played in a bracket-style elimination process, Pham said. Those with the most points would advance until a winner was determined. Marina's alliance went 6-0 in the playoffs.
Marina's alliance teammates have a bit more experience in the robotics game. Dos Pueblos has been competing since 2006 and Waterford since 2010. But the Vikings themselves have only been around since 2012.
The members of the Marina robotics team were stunned when they won at Las Vegas and found out they were heading to the nationals in only their second year of competition.
Zook, who is rounding out his first year at Marina, was involved with a robotics club at the previous school where he taught.
"I had done two years at my old school and it seemed like a far-off dream to make it to the championships," he said.
Wallingford, co-founder of the club, said members put money aside last year, joking that they would need it for the final tournament.
"We never thought we were actually going to use it," he said. "Good thing we saved it so we can go to nationals."