Robotics of Central Kitsap
Powering up for Robotics Competition
Posted on 04/03/2018
The district's FIRST Robotics team welcomes students from Olympic, CK High and Klahowya.

Less than three hours left, and the pace had definitely picked up.

“I’m panicking,” said Lauren, Robotics of Central Kitsap (ROCK) co-captain. Though panic wasn’t obvious on the Central Kitsap High sophomore’s face. This would be her team’s last chance to get their robot ready before competition.

Team members unbox their robot for final-hours tweaks.

Some parts weren’t working right. The roster had been fluctuating all week. Game day was coming.

ROCK, like teams across the country, have prepped since January for this year’s FIRST Robotics competitions. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) aims to marry the excitement of sports with science and tech. Robotics alone is a draw for many.

“You know you’re learning things when you watch it move in front of you,” Lauren said.

That kind of appeal has spurred robotics programs in CK Schools. Students can find both in- and after-school, lessons classes or clubs at all grade levels. New robotics labs are under construction at Olympic High, Central Kitsap High and Central Kitsap Middle schools.

Lauren speaks with awe recalling last year’s competitions. She watched peers troubleshoot amidst a mystery mess of wires. “They were doing more than what you’d think high school students could do,” she said. And she thought, “I want to do that.” This year, she can make sense of the wires.

Plan sketches

Prepping for Competition

Teammates from CK, Olympic and Klahowya work with staff, coaches and mentors — many from Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Keyport. They fundraise, design, machine parts and build. “Imagine a forklift being built by a teenager,” said co-captain Mike, an Olympic senior.

During competition, that “forklift” will grab milk crate-sized cubes and move them to both ground-level and 75-inch high spots for points while a clock ticks down.

They collaborate with two other teams in three-on-three matches in a tournament-style event. Alliances change with each match, so it’s a friendly contest. 

And it sure is fun, said Coach Marvin Frilles, who trains Navy reservists by day. Frilles once saw an aircraft carrier captain let loose, screaming at the top of his lungs as his son’s team took the field.

Living and Breathing Robotics

Team members ready wires for the robot's grabber.

Each year, the game field and rules change. Changes are announced in January. Then, “you live and breathe robotics for six weeks,” said ROCK member Charlie. She’s an Olympic High sophomore.

They spent 14 to 20 hours a week after school and on Saturday mornings before they had to “bag and tag” their ‘bot.

“I never thought I’d do anything for extracurricular activity much less sell my soul,” Lauren said.

The Clock Counts Down

The robot stayed bagged until five days before their first qualifying event in Yakima. Then, they had six hours to tweak and repair their machine. They huddled around laptops to adjust programming. They squeaked pens on whiteboards to fill last-minute gaps in the roster.

Students and a mentor software engineer work on the robot's code

Two hours to go, they were mostly calm, still cracking jokes. At this stage and with hundreds of parts that can and will break along the way, “they’ve experienced it before,” said head coach Alex Booth.

A pack of seniors graduated last year, so they’re a young team. While they’re hopeful about district playoffs, a berth at the world championship would be a coup. But Lauren said the real goal is to have a full roster of returning players next January. “I hope our first-years learn a lot more and fall in love.” 

Competition Highlights

After a month of competitions, team ROCK earned a rank of 17 out of about 160 teams in the Pacific Northwest District. This meant for the first time in the team's nine-year history, they qualified for the World Championship in Houston! In Houston, they earned a spot in the semifinals before losing to the No. 1 alliance. Congratulations on a great season!

During competitions, they also earned several awards:

  • The Safety Award at the West Valley Event

  • The Gracious Professionalism Award at the West Valley Event

  • A second Safety Award at the Auburn Mountainview Event

ROCK has earned two safety awards