Fort Mill Times

Indian Land robotics team has eye on state competition

Members of the Indian Land High School robotics team won the qualifying round for the S.C. VEX Robotics state championship on Oct. 10. Pictured, from left, are: team sponsor John Marlette, Tomas Seamon, Dylan Kensler, Alex Boggess, Caleb McClimen. Not pictured is team member William VanHoose.
Members of the Indian Land High School robotics team won the qualifying round for the S.C. VEX Robotics state championship on Oct. 10. Pictured, from left, are: team sponsor John Marlette, Tomas Seamon, Dylan Kensler, Alex Boggess, Caleb McClimen. Not pictured is team member William VanHoose. Courtesy of Mark Richardson

Five Indian Land High School seniors are celebrating a big win and planning a trip to state competition in a small, but rapidly growing competition in robotics.

The students and their team sponsor, engineering instructor John Marlette, worked hard to design, create and bring to life a robot that can play a mechanized version of basketball. They took first place in the first S.C. VEX Robotics Qualifier held Oct. 10 at Indian Land High. Eighteen teams competed in the invitational tournament.

Marlette said it takes a special kind of student to excel in robotics.

“They are on teams of about four to eight and they have to work well together,” he said. “They have to have a high level of math skills, drawing skills and mechanical skills to have to put the robots together. They also have to be good in English because they have to document all this.”

The team at Indian Land High is the first to qualify for the state-level competition, scheduled for March. Senior Dylan Kensler said being among the first to compete really was quite an advantage.

“We worked really hard on the robot to get it better than everyone else’s because we figured this competition would be the easiest to win because everyone wouldn’t be completely prepared for it,” he said.

Kensler said he plans on applying to Clemson to major in chemical engineering, but he also wants to get involved in mechanical engineering.

Marlette said like Kensler, the students on the team have to be well-rounded and focused. Senior Alex Boggess is another student who helped the team perform at its highest level. Boggess was one of the first students on the robotics team when it formed at ILHS three years ago.

“I want to be a robotics major at WPI (Worcester Polytechnic Institute) and this definitely looks good as a student before college, but really, I get so much joy out of it,” he said.

The team members said even though they won their qualifier, they don’t plan to just cool their heels until state competition in March. They’ve got a lot of work to do.

“We are making the robot more consistent and fixing some problems with wiring and making it more powerful for state (competition),” Kensler said.

For them, it’s not just about the individual doing well – it’s about the team working hard to achieve a common goal, just like any other sport.

“One person may not see something specific that another person might see,” Boggess said. “With a bunch of people we can evaluate ways to come up with many solutions and then we can all together figure out the best solution.”

Marlette said he owes much of the team’s success to the retiree volunteers.

“There are four or five of them that come every single week and give my students ideas on how to make their robots better,” he said. “It is a great match up with their knowledge and willingness to help the next generation of engineers.”

The volunteers, who also served as judges during the qualifier, are more than capable to help out; One was a material tester on NASA’s moon rover mission.

“Some of our Sun City volunteers help a lot,” Boggess said. “We basically started with nothing.”

Marlette said even though the robotics competition started small when the ILHS team formed several years ago, it’s grown by leaps and bounds. He estimates there are roughly 120 teams in the state.

“When we started this four years ago there were only 30 teams in the state. We have grown gangbusters on this,” he said.

To see a video from the competition at Indian Land, go to the RECFoundation channel on YouTube.

Rutland: mkrutland@comporium.net, @kt_belle

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