Crowbotics team at DeKalb High School readies for FIRST Robotics Competition World Championship

Crowbotics team embarks on a trip to Houston from April 17 to 20

Blake Bollow, a senior at DeKalb High School, works on his teams robot during a Crowbotics team meeting Tuesday, April 10, 2024, at Huntley Middle School in DeKalb. Crowbotics is DeKalb High School’s robotics team who has qualified to compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition World Championship held in Houston, Texas April 17-20.

DeKALBDeKalb High School student Jenna Zimmerman said there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to building a complex autonomous robot.

“We’ve grown from having tank drive on some of our robots to now having swerve and complex autonomous modes and having all [these] complex things, and finally being able to actually play well,” Zimmerman said.

DeKalb High School is among the top teams vying for a chance in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition World Championship, which runs from Wednesday through Saturday in Houston.

There are 600 teams from around the world expected to compete, enabling young people to celebrate science, technology, engineering and math, all while participating at the highest caliber of play.

Michael Lofthouse, the team’s head coach and a math interventionist at the high school, said knowing how hard students have worked to earn a chance to compete on the biggest of stages means a lot to him.

“It feels amazing, especially because many of the students that are on this team were my students as eighth graders,” Lofthouse said. “To be able to watch them now in their fourth and fifth years on the scene to be able to build something that was able to make it to that caliber of competition, that feels really good for me personally.”

I’ve learned a lot through robotics. What we learn here isn’t just applicable here, it’s applicable everywhere. It’s more than just building robots. It’s communication, hard work and work ethic.”

—  Blake Bollow, DeKalb High School student

At the event, teams will be tasked with gathering, networking and exchanging ideas while representing their respective regions, showcasing their innovative solutions and inventions. The last time the district’s students qualified to compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition World Championship was 2019, school board documents show.

DeKalb High School student Blake Bollow said he’s excited for what’s to come for his team thanks to all the hard work everyone puts in daily.

“We finally made it there,” Bollow said. “I’ve seen all the growth we’ve made as a team, and it all paid off this year.”

Zimmerman said she cannot help but notice how everyone has contributed to the team’s growth.

“I’m proud that we were able to make a more complex robot than we have in years past and that it was able to get us a spot at worlds,” Zimmerman said.

DeKalb High School student Abigail Slater said she hopes the Crowbotics team will fare well in the competition in Houston.

“I hope we do really well,” Slater said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to be on a playoff alliance. That would probably be the best thing for us, even if we’re not the first pick. I think it would be really cool to achieve that while going there.”

Slater said she’s proud of how far the Crowbotics team has come.

“We have a lot of challenges since we’re not the most well-funded team, because there are definitely teams that get a lot more money than us,” Slater said. “It’s just interesting to see how we work with the constraints we have, and we’re still able to do well and make it big.”

Embarking on this trip are 12 DeKalb High School students and four adult mentors and chaperones. The school board recently approved the trip, allotting $20,290 to help pay for the competition costs and travel, school board documents show.

The district used $5,750 in grants from Boeing, Beyer and the Gene Haas Foundation to help pay for the competition.

DeKalb High School students traveled with members of the Oswego School District 308 robotics team.

Lofthouse said that the Crowbotics team has faced its share of challenges, but students have tried their best to overcome them. The DeKalb team has 11 students, while the Oswego team has 68, he said.

“So, because of our small size, the biggest challenge is that positions are often in flux,” Lofthouse said. “Right now, I’ve got seniors that are doing some of the same work that freshmen are doing. Nobody gets to be always the leaders. Sometimes our more experienced members also have to move down, but it also means that our younger members have to be patient.

“So that’s one of the areas where being small is helpful, is people get opportunities to move up and have leadership roles earlier than they might on a larger team.”

Bollow said being a part of the Crowbotics team has been one of the more transformative parts of his high school experience.

“I’ve learned a lot through robotics,” Bollow said. “What we learn here isn’t just applicable here, it’s applicable everywhere. It’s more than just building robots. It’s communication, hard work and work ethic.

“So all that kind of stuff has had an impact on me in my own life. It’s more than just knowing how to use a drill.”

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