TA Robotics Team 4886 Season Update

TA Robotics Team 4886 Season Update

By Marc Chabot, Dean of Academics and Robotics Team Advisor

Featured Photo: The winning team: Isaiah Kol and Marshall Melancon and their robot BeefCake, along with their alliance partner from Team 603A, Belmont, NH.

In case you were wondering how Thetford Academy’s 9th season is going, here is an update!

Saturday was our last tournament before the State Championship in two weeks, and all three of our teams have qualified during the course of the season.

Our teams almost always make it to the elimination rounds of their tournaments, and the Master of Ceremonies, who narrates nearly all of these events, regularly praises our team’s consistent quality, and perhaps more importantly, their character.  Their grit and determination, graceful acceptance of both victory and defeat, and the collaborative spirit they bring to these large events does not go unnoticed, and I am very proud of their strength and humility.

Our most successful team this year is led by 9th grader Tate Whiteberg, assisted in various ways by enthusiastic newcomer, 8th grader Eldon Crossett (son of Jonathan Crossett TA ’97 and grandson of 30+ year retired TA math teacher and founding TA tech coordinator Bob Crossett.  Jonathan was a Physics student of mine in my first year at TA).

Tate’s robot, 4886T (Turbo Encabulator), has regularly been at the top of the competition, and this week was no exception. He was in first place at the end of the qualifying rounds, only to be defeated by his own loose battery, which shut him down for the afternoon. I was particularly proud of the grace Tate showed in the disappointment of realizing that his robot was dead in the competition. He had the #1 seed, and was teamed up with our own Team 4886C (Complete Signal Loss), consisting of 10th graders Alex Holzer and Carter Banks.  

Their disappointment, though, created an opportunity for our middle school team 4886B (BeefCake), jointly run by 8thgraders Isaiah Kol and Marshall Melancon, who had started lower in the standings.  Isaiah and Marshall defeated their opponents in the quarterfinals, the semifinals, and, ultimately, prevailed in the final round, by one point!  There were 23 teams at the mostly high school event, and this was our tournament championship of the season.  Tate had come within one second of a victory a few tournaments back, so this one was very sweet.

Joining us at the tournament with a robot (4886A) he built in the last month was newcomer, 9th grader Kai Harris, who brought a small, but functional robot to his first-ever event. Kai joined our team this past month and set to work building, with a few tips from his teammates, but mostly using his intuition and determination.  We look forward to good things from him in future seasons.

We have a few other regular team members who join us after school and come to events, but don’t regularly bring robots to events: 7th graders Daniel Kasten and Aden Perry joined the team when they were both in 6th grade at TES and continue to tinker, build prototypes and offer help to their teammates.  11th grader Zeqi “Reinhard” Kuang from China joins us sometimes, too.

Next stop:  Manchester Community College and the NH/VT State Championship in two weeks.  All three of our regular teams have qualified. The State Championship is where qualifications for the World Championship in April are made. We believe our middle school team (Isaiah and Marshall) have a very good chance of earning the one middle school spot available from our region.  The high school competition is more uncertain, as our team is young, and there are some senior level teams that will be hard to beat.   At the end of the World Championship, the new competition is announced and displayed, and the whole things starts all over again.

Some of our success this year is due to the skillful mentoring our teams have received from Leif LaWhite, Tate’s father, who, with his engineering degree from MIT and work in the field, brings a level of expertise that has been welcomed by all of our teams. Leif brought in a small bandsaw for cutting Aluminum, which brought greater precision to the robot construction. His insights in developing sharable software libraries for students to use to improve their autonomous programming has made us a powerhouse and regular winner in that department. Leif, along with parent Greg Kasten, comes in to supervise the students on Thursdays and Fridays, which is much appreciated by the team.

We are also lucky to have support from the Byrne Foundation, which helped us get to Worlds last spring and start this year with a little in reserve.  We received help this year from Hypertherm’s HOPE Foundation and a grant from the TA Alumni Association will allow us to buy the new generation of hardware for four teams.

Thetford Academy provides us a space to set up our field and equipment, allows us to use the school van for travel, and pays me a modest stipend to oversee and mentor the team.  I put some of that stipend back into the team, because the fees add up when we are sending three or four teams to competitions regularly.

We appreciate any additional donations that might be made to the team: $60 sends one team to a single tournament, $175 sends one team to the State Championship, while $30 buys pizza for the whole team on the tournament day. There is a big tournament attracting teams from around the nation at WPI in Worcester, MA, in March, but its registration fee of $250 per team, and the need for overnight accommodation,  makes it out of reach for us this year.  The fee for sending a team to the World Championship is now around $1,000.  Our Aluminum supply always needs replenishing, along with screws, hardware, and gears, so, truly, any amount is welcome.

We are proud to be in our 9th year of competition, with more than a few of
our TA Robotics Alumni now graduating from college, (responsibly paying off their loans and) supporting themselves in hi-tech fields or in graduate
school in subjects they became passionate about studying at Thetford
Academy and participating in our exciting Robotics Program.

More importantly, we are proud to create a supportive place every afternoon for teens who may find that building and dreaming about robots, programming a computer, and collaboratively solving technical mechanical problems is a satisfying and fun afterschool and weekend experience. We will undoubtedly depend on these problem-solvers in our future.

Donations may be sent to: Thetford Academy Robotics, c/o Marc Chabot, 304 Academy Rd, PO Box 190, Thetford, VT, 05074. All donations will be acknowledged with a letter of gratitude!