26 Jan Competitions jeopardized for SDSS Robotics Club due to lack of funds
By Lisa Chester
The Stratford District Secondary School (SDSS) robotics club is hard at work re-imagining and re-designing their robots from lessons learned during this season’s competitions.
Their work so far has been worldclass as they have qualified for provincials and are on the verge of going to the VEX Robotics Worlds Competition in Dallas Tex., however a lack of funding could jeopardize their opportunities to compete.
The club of around 60 junior and senior students is organized into four groups identified alphabetically as Team A, B, C and D. They meet every school day after class to design, build, program and operate robots to enter into the VEX Robotics Competition.
The team simply doesn’t have the money to travel to Dallas, Tex. for the VEX Robotics World competition. They have already passed on two competitions without jeopardizing their current ranking but once provincials are conquered, which they feel very confident about, their goal is to make a name for themselves on the world stage.
For that, they need the support of the student population and community at large. Mayor Martin Ritsma, a former high-school principal at the school, recently met with the students to talk with them about their goals.
“The needs around finding financial support is tough because these are gifted men and women, and we need to try to support them where we can. So, my job as the mayor of this community is to advocate for them in the community as I would a multitude of things. I’m so proud of what they are doing,” Ritsma said.
“I’m a former student here and when I heard about your amazing success and the work of your teacher, I wanted to come here and see what the next generation, our leaders, the men and women that are going to be running amazing companies here and beyond, are doing. I’m proud of what you do and I’m proud to be mayor of Stratford, and with that comes the responsibility to see what you are doing.”
The VEX Robotics Competition is a worldwide program that designs engineering games to compete each year. For this season, the game is called Over and Under and is played in a 12-foot-by-12-foot arena. There are 28,000 teams worldwide competing, of which, at the time of writing, the SDSS club was ranked 156th overall.
“The main goal of the game is using robots, to try to get as many of these tri-balls under the opponents net and earn points,” said Declan O’Neill, a Grade 9 member of the robotics club. “The first fifteen seconds is autonomous and we write code to run it, which takes several months.”
Their robots feature sensors allowing them to maneuver around the obstacles in the arena.
Participating in these competitions is important for student development and missing out means missed opportunities for the future. Students from bigger schools and universities participate and they get opportunities to network with other students and sponsoring employers from organisations such as NASA and Google.
“There will be fundraising planned, but the problem is we don’t know that we qualify for worlds until after provincials, which is at the end of February,” said student advisor and teacher Andrew Bradshaw. “That gives about two months for fundraising, so that’s one of the biggest challenges.”
Though, according to Bradshaw, they would have to do something really wrong not to qualify for worlds since their current standing is so strong.
“Going to worlds is great and anyone who wants to go, we know will have to pay a fair bit to go, but having some help get that far would be amazing,” said Nathaniel Smith, another student member of the club, while proudly showing the 150-page design and development book they maintain – a requirement for competition that is evaluated by a peer-review panel of professionals.
The Avon Maitland District School Board (AMDSB) is aware of the club’s impending plight and told the Times it would do what it could to support the students’ ability to compete globally.
“AMDSB is proud of the SDSS Robotics team who are doing well in competitions and may qualify for the world competition in Texas,” a board spokesperson said. “Although the board does have small amounts of funding that could be used towards the initiative (as with other competitions that are beyond Huron and Perth), there may be fundraising efforts needed to enable the students to travel such a distance.
“The board itself (or board staff members) cannot undertake a GoFundMe fundraising initiative but students are not bound by these requirements. The board will be working closely with the school and the students to enable this amazing opportunity should they qualify. Anyone interested in helping support this initiative can donate through the Foundation for Education, which supports students and families in our schools.”
Those who donate through the Foundation for Education at foundationforeducation.ca should include a note that the donation is directed toward the SDSS Robotics Club.
For more information, or to sponsor the team, email Bradshaw at [email protected].