OAKLAND — Messalonskee High School students on Jamee Luce’s team routinely showcase their skills in front of 8,000 screaming fans.

In April, they’ll be competing for the world championship.

And after high school, nearly every single one of them will “go pro,” as Luce likes to say.

The students are members of the school’s Infinite Loop Robotics Team.

The only graduate from last year’s team who isn’t now studying engineering in college is pursuing pharmacy, she said.

“It’s different from anything else kids have an opportunity to do in high school,” Luce said, adding that fundraising, marathon weekend practices and rigorous competitions afford multiple opportunities for team members to meet challenges, set goals, accept putting the team before oneself and manage time.

Early in January, Messalonskee’s 26-member squad team learned of the mission for the 2012 FIRST (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology) Robotics Competition — the Rebound Rumble challenge. About 2,000 other teams around the world got the same challenge, and the same equipment — motors, batteries, a control system, a personal computer and automation components.

Squads and their mentors then had six weeks to design, build, program and test their 120-pound robot to meet the engineering challenge. This year the challenge includes directing robots to toss a ball through basketball hoops during a 2-minute, 15-second match.

Last weekend at a Worcester Polytechnic Institute contest, a three-team alliance that included Messalonskee was eliminated in the quarterfinal round.

At that same meet, Messalonskee was presented with the Engineering Inspiration Award, which is the second highest award that FIRST bestows.

The award celebrates the team’s success recruiting students to engineering as well as its community outreach efforts.

Luce said the Infinite Loop Robotics Team had hosted an off-season event, helped Erskine Academy and Gardiner Area and Spruce Mountain high schools start robotics teams, mentored the Messalonskee Middle School Lego League team, and demonstrated their skills for area groups, including Boy Scouts and Hardy Girls Healthy Women.

By winning the award, Messalonskee automatically qualified for the World Championship — the “ultimate varsity sport for the mind” — in April at Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Mo.

Before then, Messalonskee will have a number of opportunities to hone its skills.

The three days starting March 22, the squad will at compete with more than 50 other robotics teams at the Boston Regional at Boston University’s Agganis Arena. Team members described the atmosphere there as like a rock concert, with thousands of screaming fans, music and a floor-to-ceiling LED curtain with flashing images.

Luce said the squad’s captains, senior Ian Bernier and junior Sabine Fontaine, are being considered for a Dean’s List Award, which will be announced in Boston.

The award “celebrates outstanding student leaders whose passion for and effectiveness at attaining FIRST ideals is exemplary.”

Until then, after school and on weekends, team members are brainstorming and planning changes they need to make to the robot, as several problems arose during the competition at WPI.

One change, said Luce, will involve the drive train system.

By rule, the robot must be “bagged and tagged” between competitions, so the team will forgo practice matches the first day of the Boston event to make sure the robot is revised and ready for the quarterfinal round.

Senior Derek Caron, lead programmer, said he strives to ensure the computer coding doesn’t malfunction and the robot runs smoothly for the drivers and shooters.

Fontaine is one of the operators. She said when she joined the team three years ago she thought being an engineer was a boy’s job.

Not anymore.

In addition to learning about engineering, Fontaine said she has become a better collaborator and teammate. She said she also “puts the fun in fundraising.”

Good thing, because the team does a lot of it.

Car washes, bake sales and yard sales help to raise one-third of the team’s $45,000 budget.

Several sponsors, including Fairchild Semiconductor, Wrabacon, Regional School Unit 18 and Maine State Credit Union provided the remaining $30,000.

Senior Nickolas Ferguson, a driver and shooter who also makes hotel reservations for the squad, said team members fully appreciate the experience.

The excitement at competitions is nearly at fever pitch, he said.

Caron said nearly everyone who gets involved gets hooked.

Luce wished that more adult mentors would get involved, get hooked and make a positive difference in the lives of teens.

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]

NUGGET:

Infinite Loop Robotics Team members:

Ian Bernier, Kyle Bernier, Bradley Bickford, Courtney Brown, McKenzie Brunelle, Derek Caron, Steve Chace, Dakota Condon, Aaron Damon, Cam Dick, Alex Dyer, Matt Dyer, Nickolas Ferguson, Taylor Ferguson, Sabine Fontaine, Ryan Galouch, Erika Hall, Robert Klein, Forrest LeBlanc, Eben Lenfest, Zoe Nielsen, Sydney O’Neal, Amber Pilsbury, Amy Pinkham, Justin Shuman and Brady Snowden.

 


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