First off, a little history.  (Please keep in mind this is all from my own recollection, so it may not match exactly what all the other team members recall.)

Bill Shenold, at the time an incoming freshman at Westmoore High School in August 2010, was more than a little disappointed to find that his high school had no robotics club.  Oh sure, there was the Moore Norman Technology Center's pre-engineering curriculum, but being based on the vo-tech model, you had to be a junior or senior to participate.  He even checked with the instructors there, and found that even as just a volunteer, there was no way he could participate.

Being a highly motivated young man, Bill didn't want to wait two more years to do something in robotics.  So he began asking friends and acquaintances to see if there was any interest in forming a robotics club there at Westmoore.  Mostly the other students he asked were involved in the Moore West Junior High's robotics club the previous year.  Sure enough, there were a handful, and so with the involvement of a couple of student's parents (including me, Bill's dad, Sean) the Westmoore Robotics Club was formed.

However at that time we didn't have any official school sanction for the club, so technically we couldn't be the Westmoore Robotics Club.

Having started to organize, we began to try to figure out what we were going to do.  An internet search of available options for competitions revealed that there were indeed many different organizations that foster education in robotics through various competitions, but nearly all of them required significant entry fees or at least the purchase of a kit.  The one exception was BEST Robotics (Boosting Engineering, Science, and Technology).

BEST did not have an entry fee.  BEST also supplied a robotics kit, from which each team had to build their robot, at no cost to the team.  This was fantastic!  Being a newly-formed team, with no money whatsoever, this was a perfect fit for us.

The only problem was that the time to register a team was just about to expire.  In fact, the only way Team Phoenix was able to compete was that there was a last-minute cancellation by another team, and with less than 1 hour left before registration closed, Team Phoenix registered for the local OKBEST competition.

Of course, we still didn't have official school sanction for our group.  But having started overcoming obstacles from the beginning, we were'nt going to stop now!

We went to the kick-off event on the Saturday before Labor Day, at Oklahoma Christian University.  There were just three of us there:  Bill, Gina Gottschalk, and Bill's dad, Sean.  Just about all the other teams brought 8, 10, or more members (in fact, by competition time we'd be facing some teams with 50 or more!).  But we picked up our kit and learned what we could about the competition.

Each year, BEST's competition changes.  This year, it was 'Total Recall'.  We had to build a remote control robot, using a wireless VEX control system, that could navigate around a playing field, interface with a data port, move a cart from a starting position to where it needed to go (and close a couple of microswitches), move to where it could catch golf balls in some sort of holder, and move to a discharge tray and dump its load of different-colored golf balls.  In addition, we had to have our robot pick up small traffic cones (of the type used on soccer playing fields), move them over to a rack, flip them over 180 degrees, and put them in the rack.  Then we had to go pick up either magnet-filled or marble-filled plastic Easter eggs (though not both at the same time--by interfacing with the data port you found out whether for that round only you needed magnet- or marble-filled), and then put them in the upside-down traffic cones.  And then return both the cart and the robot back to their starting points.  Lastly, a Six Sigma scoring system was in place to penalize us for any errors or dropped golf balls or Easter eggs.  And we had six weeks to design, build, and program our robot, using only the materials in the kit provided (plus a few minor add-ons, like cardboard, golf balls, and paperclips, if we chose to use them).

It sounds complicated, and it was.  But they pressed on.  The first event in the competition schedule was Mall Day, set for October 2nd, and two weeks before the competition.  Mall Day, as the name implies, was originally set up to be held at a local mall.  But after having difficulties finding a mall that would donate use of a sufficiently large open space, the OKBEST hub moved the Mall Day activities to Oklahoma Christian University.  The local-level competition would be October 16th.

Meanwhile, as the wheels of the school bureaucracy turned oh-so-slowly, we still didn't have the official approval for our school-based club.  But the clock was ticking and we couldn't wait.

So the group that would become Team Phoenix--Bill, Gina, Rheis Campbell, and Bryce Queri--began to meet at Gina's parents' house.  They came up with a triangular drive base, using a half golf ball as a skid at the rear apex of the triangle (the kit didn't include casters of any kind), and used differential steering of two drive motors to move around.  They also brainstormed about various arm and gripper designs.

Another important part of the competition was that the teams had to prepare a notebook, as well as write a paper on this year's subject, which was quality management systems.  All in all, a pretty tough set of tasks for a group of four high school freshmen whose only experience with robots was BOTBALL and LEGO's Mindstorms NXT kit.  But they faced this task with enthusiasm and pressed on.

Finally, in late September 2010, with the Mall Day activies the very next Saturday, the Westmoore Robotics Club was finally formed.  The first order of business was to elect officers.  Sadly, but predictably, all the officer positions were filled by upperclassmen, and none of the original founders were elected.

To make matters worse, the officers, who had not participated in any of the BEST Robotics activities the younger members had done, now took over the design, build, and programming efforts.

<< Don't you hate it when they say . . . .

    TO BE CONTINUED . . . . . . >>