Robotics team places among the world’s best — Bogue Chitto’s Technocats finish in top 5 percent in their division at FIRST Tech Challenge world championship

Published 11:06 pm Friday, April 27, 2018

A robot named Phoenix took a small team from Bogue Chitto to Houston to see the world.

The Bogue Chitto Technocats — freshmen Justin Kyzar and Hugh Greer, sophomores Jaylee Martin and Camryn White, juniors Bruce Smith and Faith Dickerson and seniors Ian Jeansonne, Trequan Dorsey and Dakota West — didn’t win first place in their division at the FIRST Tech Challenge world championship, but the knowledge they brought back is gold.

“Even though we hoped for a better showing, we proved that we belong in the same company as the biggest and best schools around the globe,” Principal Scott Merrell said. “I cannot express just how proud I am of the teachers and the students that worked so hard to achieve such a high level of success. That’s how we do things at BC.”

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The small team placed 47th out of 64 teams in the top 5 percent in their division in the world. It was the first time the Lincoln County school competed in a world championship.

“It was great. It was a real eye opener for everybody,” said robotics club co-sponsor Reginald Wise. He and Wendy Cawthorn lead the student team.

The team attended the four-day event with the best of the best in robotics competing against each other. Between the Houston event and another held in Detroit, Michigan, at the same time, more than 30,000 students from 1,200 teams in 62 countries competed against each other for the championship.

The Bogue Chitto team won several regional events to garner a spot in the invitation-only competition. They were the only public school in Mississippi to receive the honor. The FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — competition pits teams on a head-to-head playing field with robots they have designed, built and programmed. But the robots are just part of the competition. Teams must also raise funds, design a team brand, hone teamwork skills and perform community outreach. Interview skills account for a third of their score.

To do well in the competition, the Technocats needed to remotely-control the 120-pound robot to complete a series of tasks, such as picking up individual blocks almost as large as the robot and stacking them in another spot.

First the robot had to do it alone, then with the student operators at the control. The students program the robot for both types of tasks, Wise said.

“Basically you start with a bunch of metal and loose parts, then you have to program it to move,” he said. “then it’s up to you to make that happen.”

Wise said he’s pleased with the Technocats’ performance.

“We held our own against other teams that had been there before,” he said. “Next time, assuming we get the chance to go back again, we’ll do better.”

Merrell would like to see the robotics program expand at Bogue Chitto. He said he is working toward adding more career technical courses at the school.

He praised the community for its help raising the $6,000 needed to send the team to Houston. Several area banks stepped up to make the trip possible.

“Without them, we could not have gone,” he said. “This opportunity doesn’t come around often.”

As a senior, this should be Dorsey’s last year with the team, but he’s planning to stay involved as a mentor.

He’s disappointed the team didn’t do better, but said they can learn from the mistakes they made, such as not collaborating enough. Dorsey plans to attend Southwest Mississippi Community College so he’ll be available to help the younger students learn to program their robot.