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Playing for real

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

The high schoolers forgot all about their three large pizzas and the newspaper reporter standing in the room when they heard that their new robot parts were in.

“What’s that piece?”

“This one has a light!”

“Look! This is so cool!”

It was like a second Christmas for them.

The excited teens are part of The Last Crusaders robotics team from Knightstown High School.

The various servos, switches and sensors they were unboxing Monday night will set the groundwork for their bots in the 2018 FIRST Robotics Competition.

FIRST, which is short for “For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology,” expects more that 3,600 teams and 90,000 high school students to compete this year.

The Last Crusaders qualified for the state competition in 2017.

The challenge in 2018 is called “FIRST Power-Up.” Teams will work inside a “video game” field to out-point their opponents. They have six weeks to design, build and test machines that can move yellow bricks around the field.

The Henry County robo-technicians learned the details of this year’s competition over the weekend.

The Last Crusaders met for the first time this season Monday to talk strategy and planning for the new season.

The team is made up of Dylan Strawmyer, Jace Carmack, Maddy Matthews, Jada Bow, Caleb Spiker, Emily Kinser, Jack and Alexa Walker, Marti Burton, Andrew Hendrickson and Marilyn Wright.

“We had a lot of ideas we were bouncing off each other that first night,” said team mentor Russ Spiker. “It’s all about having a good design. And I think we have a good one.”

Besides being one of the adult mentors for The Last Crusaders, Spiker is also the school corporation’s transportation and grounds director.

Tom Walker is another mentor for the high school team. Walker could barely contain his excitement talking about how The Last Crusaders were going to dominate this year’s game.

Knightstown junior Emily Kinser joined the team after hearing robotics veteran Dylan Strawmyer talk about the event.

Kinser isn’t sure yet what to expect of the competition. That’s not stopping her from dedicating hours of preparation and practice time to the team.

“You gotta have that positive attitude,” Strawmyer said.

The Last Crusaders currently have 11 members. The team is based out of and meets at Knightstown High School, but it is open to any Henry County high schooler who is interested in robotics.

Alexa Walker pointed out that some teams have as many as 40 members.

“Everyone’s going to have to put a lot of hours in because we are a really small team,” Alexa said.

The Last Crusaders were joined Monday by Knightstown Middle School science teacher Tony Kinnett.

Kinnett was on the robotics team when he was a student at Shenandoah. Now, he is helping rebuilding the FIRST LEGO League robotics program at KMS. There are already 18 kids on the middle school team, Kinnett said.

The Knightstown Middle School also plans to host a robotics competition during the 2019 season. Kinnett wants to see the matchups take place at Hoosier Gym.

Kinnett hopes his team can serve as a sort of feeder program to the high school team.

The Last Crusaders will compete in Lafayette and Plainfield this year.

The 2018 FIRST Championships are April 18-21 in Houston, Texas, and April 25-28 in Detroit, Michigan.

The Knightstown FIRST robotics program is sponsored by CFH Enterprise, New Castle Stainless Plate, Infinity Process Control Group, Van Hoy Oil, Knightstown Elevator, Hoosier Feeder and Russ Dellen Chevy.