RoboLions to compete in state competition this weekend

Sophomore+Will+Montello+works+at+the+robotics+table+during+Open+House+in+November.+The+program+began+five+years+ago%2C+and+this+year%27s+RoboLions+are+having+their+most+successful+season+ever.

Staff photo

Sophomore Will Montello works at the robotics table during Open House in November. The program began five years ago, and this year's RoboLions are having their most successful season ever.

Abby Gillin, Staff Writer

The #98881A VEX Robotics team, better known as the St. Pius X RoboLions, is having their most successful season ever in the brief five-year history of their program. Among their impressive results was a first place finish at the VEX Robotics Tournament in November, where they also earned the Robot Skills Champion Award. They hope to keep up their good work at the state competition on Saturday, February 8 at Ola High School in McDonough. 

The RoboLions have three coaches: Math teacher Mrs. Connie Fish, science teacher Mrs. Brigid Bartholomai, and Instructional Technology Coordinator Dr. Marian Rosenberg. Their guidance combined with leadership from team captains Daniel Heim (‘20), Cody Nelson (‘21), and Will Montello (‘22) helps the group stay on track as they prepare for competitions, known as Tower Takeover events in the robotics world. 

The goal of a Tower Takeover is to get as many points as possible by stacking color-coordinated cubes with assigned point values. Each team works with an alliance partner, (a team from another school), to achieve a shared goal in the competition. 

At the first event of the season in October, the RoboLions placed second among 40 teams.

“It felt pretty good, especially because we didn’t think we were going to win,” senior Matthew McDaniel said. 

McDaniel is the team’s “scouter” who is tasked with scouting the arenas for alliance partners and persuading them to team up with the RoboLions. 

If the team does well in the early qualifying rounds of a competition, they get the chance to select their alliance partner, but in the elimination rounds the teams are randomly assigned.

“The biggest challenge is having terrible teammates,” Nelson said as he explained the importance of these alliance partners.

They almost earned a first place finish at their next competition, but a technical failure beyond their control prevented them from advancing.

“We got into the finals but our port died, and it had nothing to do with our design,” Mrs. Bartholomai said.

A port is one of the most significant pieces of a robot because it connects different parts together and allows the machine to function as one complete unit. When Montello’s port stopped working, the team was unable to continue stacking cubes. He quickly realized what was happening and took action.

“As soon as it happened and I couldn’t control the motor, I immediately started talking to our alliance partner,” Montello explained. 

Unfortunately, the St. Pius robot was the stronger of the two, and the glitch cost them the match.

“Our alliance partner, their strength wasn’t stacking. They could stack two cubes at a time while we could stack three,” Montello said.

“It was kinda sad because they were pretty close to winning the competition,” Nelson added.

The fact that the RoboLions almost won was more than enough for Dr. Rosenberg, though. As a new addition to the group this year, the competition was the first one she’s ever attended.

“It was so exciting. The emotional highs and lows and to see how the kids worked with strangers was amazing!” Dr. Rosenburg exclaimed.

“There were 40 teams and they were in the FINALS, and it was so exciting!” she continued. “If it wasn’t for that stupid port failure, they might have won!”

The journey to getting the program to where it is today began five years ago when Mrs. Fish and Mrs. Bartholomai created the team with their own kids in mind.

“We both wanted our rising freshmen to become interested in robotics,” Fish said.

But a robotics program didn’t exist at St. Pius yet, so they took it upon themselves to start a team.

“The coach from the Marist team was hugely significant [in getting the St. Pius team started],” Mrs. Fish said.

Nelson and his family also played a big role in establishing the team, allowing the RoboLions to use their basement to construct a replica of the competition arena. 

“We’d really be behind if it wasn’t for the Nelson’s basement,” Mrs. Bartholomai said. “The Nelson family has been really generous in letting the team go over there at all times of the night to practice and perfect things.”

With a strong foundation already in place, Mrs. Bartholomai and Mrs. Fish are excited about the future of the program as it continues to grow and evolve.

“Each year we learn new things and add new things,” Mrs. Fish said.

“It’s been like just trial and error over the last few years, and every year we reflect and figure out what we have to do better for next year,” Mrs. Bartholomai added.

For more information about the state championship this weekend and to see results from this entire season, visit the Robotics EDucation and Competition Foundation website.