Robotics team makes Burroughs High School history

Robotics team makes Burroughs High School historySIERRA SANDS UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT — After earning distinction at the VEX State Robotics Championships last weekend in San Diego, the Robotic Burros team 7422B has qualified for the world championships in Texas this May.

“This is a great honor,” said Damien Jacotin, Burroughs High School (BHS) teacher and robotics advisor. Although the school has a history of high-performing teams, 7422B is the first to qualify for the world competition.

“But I am not surprised. This is just a reflection of the hard work and dedication of the team. It’s like taking a test at school — it shouldn’t be stressful, it’s just an opportunity for the student to demonstrate the skills they have acquired,” said Jacotin.

That dedication is not something that began this year, it began when the core of the team first got involved in the Robotic Burros club in fall of 2018. And they still have work ahead — including making the required improvements to compete at the next level and raising an estimated $10,000 to cover trip expenses.

7422B is one of three BHS teams that participated in VEX competitions this year. The members include Peter Neipp — team captain and driver, Gabriel Neipp — lead programmer and engineer, Albert Rosas — CAD modeler and engineer, Jonah Scanlan — strategist and engineer, Logan Burnes — engineer and backup driver, Kaleb Hawkins — strategist, and Moazzma Chaudhry, lead documentarian.

“Most of our team has been together for four years,” said Peter. “Our first league competition that first year, we finished dead last in the league. By our sophomore year we qualified for state, but we finished third from last. So this year, to finish 4th out of 42 teams in the state qualifiers and 3rd in skills — we were so happy to see how much our team has grown.”

VEX, the corporate sponsor of the tournaments, designs a competition with different objectives each season. Schools purchase standardized parts, then they design, build, program, test and refine operations of a robot that can execute those objectives in a competitive format.

Thousands of teams from hundreds of schools across the state compete first in regional tournaments to qualify for state, then at state finals to represent California in the world competition. While there is an invitational national tournament, it is outside of the VEX competitive structure.

Teams can qualify for state and world competitions through a series of qualifying tournaments leading up to league brackets. The other way to qualify is through achievements — such as the Excellence Award, which is given to the team with outstanding demonstration of skills, tournament play, documentation, sportsmanship and robot engineering. Team 7422B won that at the regional level. 7422B also won the “Skills” competition, where teams post combined scores of autonomous and driver-controlled performances in a solo field of competition.

At state, 7422B finished qualifying rounds with a 6-1 record. They were knocked out of brackets in the quarter final by the team that ultimately won the tournament. However, 7422B qualified for worlds by earning the “Think” award, which recognizes coding excellence — demonstrated by their earning the highest-performing autonomous program during the skills competition at state.

Team 7422B is just the latest BHS team to represent us at state over the years. Jacotin, as well as members of the team, acknowledged that part of their success this year was fueled by the robust level of competency in the overall program.

When the members of 7422B were freshmen, they looked up to senior Aidan Murphree — captain of 7422H, who dominated in regional events and helped take his team to state. The next year Zeneve Jacotin took over as captain and led 7244H to state. Lars Bartels, who competed on that team starting his freshman year, kept up that standard over the next two years. Jacotin credits the friendly rivalry between 7422H and 7422B as an influence in the latter team’s success.

Another key component of success comes from the financial and organization support of Robotics for STEM, a non-profit organization sponsored by NDTI to provide funding for local schools. John Paul, president of Robotics for STEM, coordinates tens of thousands of dollars in fund-raising each year, and has already committed to raising another $5,000 to help send 7422B to worlds.

“Most of the highly competitive schools in the state have dedicated classes, funding sources and corporate sponsors,” said Jacotin. One of the challenges for the Robotic Burros is that students have to find time outside of class, sports and other extracurriculars to work together.

“The reason 7422B did so well is because they put in the time — they showed up to school early, they stayed late, they came in on lunches and weekends. And you can see that their hard work paid off,” said Jacotin.

He estimated that the team is about halfway toward its fund-raising goals, between the Robotics for STEM commitment and another $1,000 raised so far in a Facebook campaign. The team members — when they are not working on their robot — will also be making presentations to local businesses and service clubs and washing cars for donations.

“We are delighted to see the community rally around our team. Getting to this level of competition is a huge deal, and we know that we are representing our whole community,” said Jacotin.

Donations can also be made online through

Pictured: Members of Robotic Burros 7422B, pictured with advisor Damien Jacotin (right), show the awards they earned this year during regional and state competitions. They are raising money to attend the VEX World Robotic Championships, held this May in Texas.

Story First Published: 2022-03-18