Woodland robotics team heading to world competition

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Members of the robotics team at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls pose with their robot that they will take to the world robotics competition in Anaheim, Calif., next month. Team Impulse, back row from left, Ryan Leeper, 15, Jacob Hawes, 17; Alex Smith, 17; Dan Lyons, 18; Mark Mierzejewski, a physics and astronomy teacher at the school; Jerry Zollo, 17; and Chris Bailey, 18. Front row from left, Arty Kica, 17; Zach Blum, 18; and Marianna Majewska, 17. –RA ARCHIVE

BEACON FALLS — The students don’t have a name for it. But they have taken to calling it “Big Bot.”

The robot — which can fit neatly into an 18-inch by 18-inch cube — is taking the Woodland Regional High School Robotics Team to Anaheim, Calif., for the world robotics competition next month.

Team Impulse, comprised of nine members, will fly to California after they earned an excellence award on March 3 at the VEX Robotics New England Championship in Worcester, Mass. Woodland was the only high school to get that award, which is the highest honor a team can get. The team also won best autonomous robot and best skills challenge robot.

“I love the fact that we got the excellence award,” said senior Zach Blum, the team’s coach and head of structure. “I’m so proud of that.”

Since late November, the team, all seniors except for one freshman, has stayed every day after school for at least two hours, working on their robot. They are overseen by Mark Mierzejewski, a physics and astronomy teacher at the school and the team’s mentor. Mierzejewski headed up the robotics team at Kennedy High School in Waterbury, where he taught for 19 years before moving to Woodland.

This is the first time Woodland will head to a world championship, but the third for Mierzejewski. Kennedy High competed twice at that level. This is also the first year for a VEX Robotics program at Woodland.

Their robot looks light on the ground, but it carries a bit of heft at about 20 pounds. There are no rules on weight, but VEX has other restrictions.

Arty Kica, one of the programmers and lead driver, picked up a game controller and moved the boxlike robot around a practice competition rink inside a classroom Friday.

“I do everything,” he said, smiling.

The team members watched as Kica used the control to move the bot. It has one arm and one tread system, which can hold four elements or pieces in the competition.

Blum said the robot is only allowed 10 motors. They tried various combinations to figure out where to best place them.

The key to the game, called “Gateway,” is to score as many balls and barrels into nine goals on the playing field. There are two robots to a team, and the goal is to score as many points as it can against the other team.

Dan Lyons, who is Kica’s backup driver and second in command to Blum, said he is most proud that a rookie team like this came out on top against teams who have had robotics programs for years.

Smith said, “It took a lot of hard work to get here. Everyone did something.”

The team now will concentrate on tweaking “Big Bot” and practicing until the final showdown. It also will be raising money for the trip, which could cost up to about $11,000, Mierzejewski said.

He has been working with Principal Arnold Frank and interim Superintendent Tim James on possible funding from the district, he said. But the district won’t be able to foot the entire bill, and that’s why they will be drumming up donations.

Donations can be sent to Woodland Regional High School,135 Back Rimmon Road, Beacon Falls, CT 06403, Attn. Robotics Team. For more information, contact Mierzejewski via e-mail at mmierzejewski@region16ct.org.