Robotics of Central Kitsap (ROCK) team is headed to Houston

BREMERTON — The Robotics of Central Kitsap (ROCK) team is headed to Houston after qualifying for the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) World Championship that takes place this weekend.

This is the first time in nine years the team, made up of students from Central Kitsap, Olympic and Klahowya, will compete in the robotics event.

The goals of what every team’s robot must accomplish are decided at the beginning of each season. For example, this year, one stipulation is that all robots must be able to climb a foot off the ground. The robotics world championship competition this year is in Houston and Detroit, with more than 800 teams invited from nations around the globe, including Turkey, China, Japan and Israel.

Half of the teams and their robots are expected in Detroit while the other half is invited to Houston, where team ROCK is headed.

Just to be invited is a treat for team ROCK since the members have never been to the world championship event.

It was already considered a great year by head coach Alex Booth. The team made strides throughout the regular season, he said, placing 19 of 35 in its first event and 13 of 35 in the final event. The postseason came knocking on the door and “the unexpected happened,” Booth wrote in an email.

Team members were invited to the district championship, where their 11th-place finish qualified them for a trip to Houston —Houston — something that had never before been done by this group.

It’s not just qualifying for the world championship that has assistant coach Marvin Frilles excited. It’s more so that the 16 students are picking up an abundance of useful skills, he said. Not only are students learning how to code, program, build and innovate, Frilles added they are learning public speaking, time management and networking skills.

“If I were to challenge them and say, ‘Alright, we want the arms to do something like this,’ I’ll leave them alone, come back and sure enough, they’ve come up with the same design plans I have,” he said. “And I’ve got a huge background in engineering [and am] a nuclear electrician in the Navy.”

Frilles coaches alongside Tom Yenko, a retired machinist, and Booth, and first got involved with the program after attending one of his son’s events four years ago. His son, Michael Frilles, is now a co-captain of the robotics team in his senior year.

Marvin added that unlike sports, clubs such as this one are unique in that it allows parents like himself to become heavily involved.

“With robotics,” he said, “we invite the parents to come in and they can work side-by-side with their children, building the robots.”

One of the team members traveled far to attend a robotics event before learning that there was a team close to home, Marvin said, adding that he hopes that his team’s success will bring awareness to students and parents, many of whom do not know it exists.

That is a common theme among robotics clubs in the area. Blake Greisinger, robotics head coach at Bremerton High School, said he had 14 reliable students competing this year but has had as little as just six in previous years.

The Knights finished their regular season in Auburn when they finished second overall in the elimination finals. Greisinger said it’s recommended to have at least 20 students participating, so his major goal for next year is to bring in more participants.

A large team, however, is not necessarily needed for the final postseason event. Greisinger knows this best as he entered his team of six into a lottery a couple years ago and was picked to attend the world championship. The team didn’t place as a top finisher because of its low turnout that year, but Greisinger said it was an incredible experience for the students.

Clubs with small numbers face the possibility of being cut, Marvin said. He mentioned that his students, in particular, have been acting as underdogs since the start of the year after hearing a rumor that the school district might be eliminating the team.

“We were putting up a fight with the school district earlier this year because we heard a rumor that we were going to be dispensed next year,” he said. “Now, with a successful record-breaking season, we’re hoping that the kids and the team can show … we’re a world-caliber team [and] we can make it this far.”

— Jacob Moore is a reporter for Kitsap Daily News. Contact him at jmoore@soundpublishing.com or follow him on Twitter @JMooreKDN.

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