Robotics Club wins Design Award

The members of the St. John Vianney High School Robotics Club spent several months working on their submission for the FIRST qualifying tournament in Springfield in January. 

That work paid off for Team 6453, also known as the “Grizzly Griffs,” when they were honored with the Design Award at the qualifier.

“Our team, 6453, won first place for the Design Award and then third place for the Connect Award,” said junior Andrew Chapman. “This award is a validation for all of our team’s efforts this year. This award will inspire us to continue our hard work and look to ensure the club has another successful season next year.”

Team 6453 was comprised of Chapman, Adam Boland, Matt Shannahan, Sam Funk, Michael Depelheuer, Ryan Utterson, Jacob Fischer and Zac Brinkley — all juniors at Vianney — and moderated by Bob Prost

A pair of Boeing engineers, Jim Howard and Dan Stanley, also mentored the team. Howard is a 2001 graduate of Vianney High School.  

The competition was part of the FIRST Tech Challenge qualifying tournament. FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science Technology.” 

“High schools and middle schools around the country, around the world actually, compete in these tournaments,” Prost said. “It’s not like battling robots where they’re trying to destroy each other like on television. … This is simply designing robots that have to execute certain movements. They have to achieve certain objectives. Like they need to be able to drive across the floor, pick up and object, lift it, drive it other to another location and drop it. Then go back and scoop up more of them. 

“Whatever robot can do that in the most efficient manner typically wins the entire competition. It’s simple, routine, mundane routine tasks to the person watching it, but to make a robot do those simple, mundane tasks takes a lot of planning, a lot of engineering, it takes a lot of computer programming.”

And a lot of time and effort. 

The road to the qualifying tournament in Springfield started back in August for Team 6453.  

“Our team came up with our design over the course of our season during the school year,” Chapman said. “We met on Tuesdays after school for about an hour and a half starting in August. We first analyzed what ways we could win the competition and what our abilities would allow us to build. From there, we built our robot and tested it before going to the competition in Springfield.”

The Grizzly Griffs didn’t win the qualifying tournament, but their work was recognized. 

“We did give a tremendous presentation to the engineers that were there,” Prost said. “You have to present as part of this. Not only do you run your robot through the fun competition and try to beat the competition, you have to present your robot to a panel of engineers who then fire questions at you. 

“… They fire all kinds of crazy questions at them and these guys answered very professionally. The robot was awarded that trophy based on it’s performance, it’s functionality, it’s aesthetics, the way it looked. So it met all the objectives that they wanted. They won the whole thing. So we were the No. 1 team out of 20.”

Team 6453 traveled back to St. Louis with a trophy and the satisfaction of months of work paying off. 

The honor also represents another accomplishment for a Robotics Club that has grown over the past few years and could lead to future opportunities beyond the classrooms of Vianney High School. 

“Two years ago … we actually won, we were the top seed, we placed first at the Meramec qualifier, which is a tournament of about 36 teams, 36 high schools, and Vianney was the top dog,” Prost. “We didn’t advance to the state qualifier, though. We actually lost in the later on rounds. … The good news is the kids love it. It opens the doors for a lot of engineering opportunities because we are mentored by two Boeing engineers).”