Straughn High School Robotics Club advances to regionals after ‘BEST’ performance

Published 11:00 am Saturday, October 28, 2023

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Straughn High School’s Robotics Club was one of 16 schools to compete during the seventh annual BEST (Boosting Engineering Science and Technology) Robotics competition on Saturday, Oct. 21.

The Straughn High School Robotics Club earned several trophies for this robot at a BEST competition held at Troy University on Saturday, Oct. 21. (PHOTO BY ZACK MAIO)

Straughn is currently the only high school in Covington County with a robotics team. Robotics team coach Stephen Bowen described the program as multi-faceted with a variety of roles involved.

“I could not be more proud of the robotics team this season with BEST. They have put so much time and effort into making this team the best it can be. A lot of people think the program just involves building a robot, but there is so much more. We compete in two different competitions with the BEST competition going on right now and the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) competition in the spring. The robotics program needs all types of students to be successful,” Bowen said.

The team conducts a marketing presentation at the BEST competition, where the team and robot are presented as a sales team. There is an engineering notebook and a booth and interview on the day of the competition that showcases the team’s values and development process over the season. A robotics competition is also held in addition to spirit and sportsmanship, which is scored by students leading the team and being helpful to other teams involved.

Bowen added that the school launched its robotics program several years ago but did not compete until three years ago.

“We started the BEST competitions in 2020 and had a virtual competition our first year due to the pandemic. We learned a tremendous amount, but it was essentially like starting over in 2021 when we returned to in-person. We have competed in BEST every year since while adding the FIRST competition in 2022 and are looking forward to the second season this year.”

Ashton Teel leads the team’s engineering notebook, while Emily Byrd oversees Straughn’s booth design.

“Ashton has spearheaded our notebook for the last three seasons, which makes up the largest part of our score. Emily is very interested in the arts and is an amazing artist. She isn’t involved as much with the robot design but is an integral part of the team showcasing her talent. The FIRST competition in the spring is a lot bigger competition with over 6,000 teams throughout the world competing. We were able to meet teams from Brazil and Mexico last season, and the variety of cultures had such a positive impact on the students,” he said.

A theme is selected each year based on a current need in the industry. The fall 2023 theme at Troy University was “Incision Decision.”

“The design process focuses on utilizing the materials we have to fit the game theme each year. It is a different game every season, so we have to start over every semester. We look at what we want to achieve, prototype our parts, test our parts, and then build our final product. There are a lot of failures involved, but we learn from every one.”

Students must meet certain requirements for each competition. In the BEST competition, they are only permitted to use materials provided to them. The robot must fit in a 2’x’2’x2’ box and can only weigh 24 pounds. In FIRST Robotics, the robot must have a frame perimeter of 120 inches, weigh no more than 125 pounds without the battery, and have a maximum starting height of 58 inches.

According to Bowen, the game changes each season and therefore affects the team’s design process.

“We focus on the material constraints we have to optimize scoring in the game. We only have 3 minutes each round during BEST to score as many points as possible. While the FIRST rounds are 2 minutes and 45 seconds, the first 15 seconds are autonomous only. BEST sends us a kit of parts, and we are only allowed to use the materials they provide with some slight leeway with four custom parts. FIRST Robotics has some constraints, but for the most part, we are allowed to use any materials we can acquire and receive help from anyone for ideas. FIRST focuses more on the sharing of ideas and cooperation with professionals, while BEST focuses more on the students taking on those roles themselves. The combination of the two competitions each year provides invaluable opportunities for the team to learn from,” he said.

Team members meet during a class period and at least 10 hours each week after school. This time after school is devoted to work on the robot.

“Both competitions have a start and end date, so we are always working to get our robot prepared for competition dates. Every minute of our work together is such an amazing experience and allows students to develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills with each meeting.”

Team members for 2023-2024 include William Baxley, Emily Byrd, Will Cowan, Jared Gay, Guy Infield, Catherine Kime, Christian Kime, John Miller, Charlie Philpott, Ashton Teel, Gabe Jones, Kellen Dumont, and Jaina Hatcher.

Gay and Baxley have been on the robotics team for the last three years.

“I enjoy all the friends I have made from the robotics team and am looking forward to winning our next competition,” Gay said. “I enjoy the problem-solving part of it and am looking forward to the interviews at the next competition,” Baxley added.

Christian Kime and Byrd first joined the robotics team two years ago.

“My favorite part of being on this team is the collaborative atmosphere. Our team enjoys having a chance to tinker with parts, make models, and further improve those models over and over. I enjoy the trips we get to go on and having the feeling of being a successful individual. I hope we can take all of our flaws from the Troy BEST Robotics competition and work on those in order to make a higher competition,” Kime said.

“My favorite part of robotics is creating ideas and creating the best robotics exhibit. I am very creative and draw all the time. I look forward to our next competition, and the fact they have a part of the competition geared towards creativity is really exciting,” Byrd said.

Straughn now sets its sights on the regional BEST Robotics competition from Dec. 1-3 at the University of North Alabama in Florence.

“With the help of (Superintendent) Mr. (Shannon) Driver, (SHS Principal) Mr. (Matt) Cobb, and some businesses around Andalusia, we have been able to cover our expenses for the South’s BEST Regional event. However, for FIRST Robotics, we are always looking for more sponsors either financially or in the mentoring capacity,” Bowen said.

For more information email or call the Straughn High School office at 334-222-2511.