Murray robotics heading to state

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Murray robotics heading to statePictured: From left, Kate Champeny with Lars Bartels, Wade Cushing, Gabriel Neipp and Sammy Nay at last weekend’s robotics tournament. — Photo by Timothy Neipp

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“If you consider all the disadvantages, all the hurdles we had to overcome this season, this is quite an achievement for the team — no matter what happens at state.”

Kate Champeny, Gateway to Technology instructor at Murray Middle School and advisor to the school’s two competitive robotics teams, reported that the boys’ team won the league qualifiers over the weekend, securing their spot at the statewide competition March 4 in Vallejo.

(One of the Burroughs High School teams also qualified for state. See related story, this edition.)

Last Saturday the Murray robotics teams joined their peers across the region for the third in a series of contests in Hesperia.

Champeny looked at the performances of the 30 teams going into Saturday’s competition and realized that the boys were tied with Oak Hills in wins, but just behind in standing.

“I didn’t want to say anything to throw our team into a panic, but I realized that the only way we would come out on top was if we finished the day with a perfect record and Oak Hills — which is a really lovely team — didn’t.”

During the fifth match of the day, Oak Hills tied their opponent. So far, Murray had won all of their matches. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh — if we can just hang on, we might actually take this!’”

They did. It was the first time in five years that Murray had won a league championship.

Murray will still compete in the tournament finals on Feb. 3, but they can rest assured that their place at state is already secure.

“The nature of robotics is that anything can happen at any time,” said Champeny. “Believe it or not, but the boys didn’t even have a functioning robot the day before the tournament.”

Over Christmas break, she agreed to let team captain Lars Bartels to take the robot home to conduct a massive rebuild.

“He is such a rock star. I completely believed in the grit and the commitment of this eight-grader, or I never would have let the robot out of my sight.”

But the rebuild did not work as he had hoped. The boys got feedback from their counterparts in the BHS Robotics Club, and in the days leading up to the tournament Lars and teammate Gabriel Neipp worked on it every available moment to bring it back online.

“So it worked, but now we had this robot that no one had ever driven,” said Champeny.

In the latest competition, Lars and teammate Sammy Nay shared driving responsibilities to achieve their perfect record. This was a gamble for the team. Although all teams are allowed to have two drivers, most teams have only one. One driver typically has greater control, and the programming requirements are more simple. But if you can build the duality into the design, two drivers have a much better potential to score goals.

Gabriel and Wade Cushing, the last two members of the team, worked behind the scenes to support their teammates.

Champeny said that the Mustangs’ small team would be reduced even further at state, where only Lars, Sammy and Gabriel will be available.

“That’s one of our disadvantages,” she acknowledged. Another is that most of their contemporaries have a dedicated class that meets daily, rather than a weekly club like local teams.

“We also don’t have any funding,” said Champeny, who thanked the Robotics for STEM program of NDTI for sponsoring their team’s registration at the state competition.

“But getting to watch the way our team functions together, how responsible and responsive they are, is really quite something to see.”

Story First Published: 2018-01-26