Grayling Robo Vikes are prepared for competition
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
The Grayling High School’s Robo Vikes are ready to smash their competitors as flat as a pancake in their second year of competition.
The Grayling Robo Vikes has its robot bagged and ready to roll for its second year, with more mentors and sponsors backing the group.
The team, officially known as Grayling High School Robo Vikes #6121, was formed in 2016 through FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), the competitive world of high school robotics.
Over the course of six weeks, 20 students built the robot that they will compete with this year. The robot was bagged on Feb. 21 as part of a mandatory waiting period, when the students cannot work on or practice with the robot before the first competition, which will be held at Gaylord High School on March 16-18.
The students took the specifications for the robot, crafted the parts and fasteners, wired the electronics, and did troubleshooting when they ran into hurdles.
“Our robot is built by our kids, with the guidance of our build mentors,” said Gaynell Gentelia, the lead mentor and coach for the team.
The robot for this year’s competition will deliver gears to an airship as well as energy to the airship’s boilers in the form of whiffle balls. The robot then can end the competition by climbing up onto the airship, or climbing up a rope up to five and a half feet in just 10 seconds.
The robot can operate in both an autonomous mode, where it uses a camera that can read reflective tape to determine its movements, and under the control of team drivers.
In their first year, the Grayling Robo Vikes participated in matches in Standish and Traverse City as well as the state finals held in Grand Rapids. They placed 89th among 411 teams in the statewide finals competition.
Reflecting back on last year, junior Tyler Zaiger, the team’s primary driver, programmer, and a member of the build and operations teams, said the team’s robot has reached a new level compared with schools that have had robotics teams for years.
“We’re getting up there,” Zaiger said. “I’m excited. I feel like we can make it really far this year.”
Chuck Rubey, the building and trades teacher at Grayling High School, serves as a liaison to the team. He said the background of students that took part in the team last year combined with the training of new students should help bolster the team’s performance this year.
In addition, Grayling High School added a robotics class this year, which had 22 students in its first trimester. The students were able to learn programming skills using a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) router.
“They can actually see things move and the results of the programming, so that’s where we’re headed with it,” Rubey said.
Madison Hehir, a freshman, said the Grayling Robo Vikes piqued her interest to get involved with the club.
“I kind of wanted to try something new,” she said. “I heard from a lot of people that it was fun, so I thought I would give it a try.”
Over the last several weeks, Hehir has been part of the team that has built the robot and she learned more about screws and fasteners, and to use a band saw, jig saw, and power tools.
“It’s sparked an interest,” Hehir said. “I’ve kind of changed from wanting to be a veterinarian to wanting to do something on the mechanical side now. It’s really fun and I enjoy it lot.”
Rick and Janet McBride, who have mentored students in robotics clubs in Rochester Hills, were recruited to be part of the Grayling team last fall.
“They’ve came on board and it’s been amazing,” Gentelia said.
The McBrides’ son, Andrew, now serves as an inspector for FRC, and is a mentor while attending college.
The McBrides are in transition with retirement and are moving to a home in Grayling. They volunteered to mentor the Grayling Vikes after meeting team leaders at the competition in Traverse City last year.
“This is great. It changes kids’ lives. It changed my son’s life,” Rick said. “It’s just amazing to see what happens. That’s why we’re here.”
Rick said teams downstate have dozens of members, mentors, and sponsorships from the Big Three auto companies. While smaller in scale, the teams from northern Michigan can hold their own against bigger schools at the competition.
“We’ve still found our niche in what we’re going to do and I think we’re going to do really good this year,” he said.
Char Rizzy, whose son, Matthew Rizzy, a junior on the team, is serving as a safety mentor and a member of the build and operations team for her first year. She said it is amazing to witness the students start with nothing and build a robot that is ready for competition.
“It’s been a wonderful experience and they’re wonderful at teamwork,” she said.
As a requirement for the program, the Grayling Robo Vikes do community presentations to promote STEM, which is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – in an interdisciplinary and applied approach.
The robot was presented to youth at the Devereaux Memorial Crawford County Library last summer during the summer reading program. The robot also rolled through the community during the Fourth of July parade and the AuSable River Festival parade.
A robot reveal event will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 15, at the Grayling McDonald’s, where an all-you-can-eat pancake dinner will be held to raise funds for the team. The cost is $5 per person or $20 for a family up to six.
Gentelia, whose daughter, Kaitlyn Bennett, a junior, is starting her second year on the team, said the added community support and sponsorships is a plus for the team.
“I think it’s been a lot more organized and a lot more beneficial to the kids,” Gentelia said.
Jacob Proffitt, a senior on the team, plans on pursing a degree in mechanical engineering at Michigan Technological University to further utilize his training with robotics.
“It’s all about crafting things by hand,” he said.