BELDING — All across the state of Michigan, robotics clubs are growing in popularity.
It has taken off so much so in recent years, according to Tom Daller, a Belding High School teacher, the competitions are starting to require an extra stage for competition. Instead of preliminary tournaments to decide which teams will go to state competitions, preliminary tournaments will be the deciding matches for regional competitions.
After regional competitions, qualifying teams will then move onto the state level and, if successful, they can get the chance to be invited to the worlds competition.
The popularity of robotics showed during Saturday’s tournament at Redskin Arena at Belding High School. Fifty teams from across the state came together to compete in the morning’s qualifying matches. Some of those lucky teams were able to move past the qualifying rounds into the main event — the tournament to decide which teams would move on to compete at the state level.
There are 70 students involved with the robotics club both at the middle school level and the high school level, according to Daller. He said one of four Belding teams who made it to tournament play made it to the semifinals of the tournament. The rest fell to their opponents during the quarterfinals.
In previous years, students have made it further into tournament play, but Daller said the club has grown in size more rapidly in recent years and more students are involved.
“As a coach … I’ll make the sacrifice (of more quality time with individuals) to give more students an opportunity to be involved with this program,” Daller said.
Daller said some of the students who competed Saturday have never built a robot before and there is a learning curve associated with that process.
“There are some shining stars in the middle school teams,” he said. “And this way they’ll have four years in high school (to be involved in robotics).”
Not only were there more students participating than in previous years, but Daller said parents have been more involved this year than in previous years.
It’s Daller’s hope that other people from the community will continue to take an interest in the robotics competitions and the different areas of knowledge students need to utilize in order to be successful in tournament’s like Saturday’s.
“There’s so much knowledge… I think there are a lot of individuals out there that have the background in design and have that time to spend. We need to start looking to those people to pass on that knowledge to these kids,” he said.
Despite the challenges students from Belding teams faced Saturday, they remain determined to figure out where they can improve and make the necessary changes.
For C.J. Bunce, a 16-year-old sophomore, one of the best parts about being involved in the robotics club is to be a part of a family.
“Everybody here is a family, no matter where you’re from. Everybody is friendly with each other,” he said.
Bunce plays football and is involved in track, as well. He said the competition in those sports is much more fierce and people on other teams aren’t as willing to offer support or advice during a competition.
Bunce said he recently broke his hand, which left him unable to play football. In order to fill his time, he got more involved with robotics and has been interested in it ever since. He said his favorite part of the process is to build the robots while his least favorite part is programming the robot.
Luckily, Bunce said, other teammates offer their support and help him with the programming portion of the competition.
“We all help each other out when someone needs help, even if we’re further behind,” he said. “We have to work together to get further.”
A teammate of Bunce’s, Zach Brown, 16, another sophomore, said he also really enjoys building the robots. He said he’s learned other valuable skills being part of the robotics club, including how to communicate effectively with teammates and total strangers.
“I just think (building robots) is a useful skill to have,” Brown said.