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Durango High School robotics team solidifying itself as consistent state contender

Students use last year’s experience to fuel strategy for success in 2024
The Durango High School robotics team, also known as the Robo Demons, from left, Rydin Hill, 18, Peri Wright, 17, Linus Prothero, 15, Liam McAllister, 16, Hunter Osborn, 16, and Kai Brocker, 16, run their task completing robot through their course on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, at DHS. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The Durango High School robotics team is returning to the FIRST Tech Challenge state championship this weekend.

The team is in its second year of existence, reaching the competition in back-to-back years.

In the recent Mountain Qualifier competition, both of DHS’s teams were given the “Think Award” and the “Innovate Award.”

The second team, made up of Rydin Hill, Peri Wright, Bryan Hastey, Enzo Guglielmo, Linus Prothero, Cooper Gray, Heidi Clay, Andy Hill, Hudson Gray, Liam McAllister, Jackson Dreyfus, Gideon Bokelman and Kai Brocker, took home the Innovate Award.

This award allowed each team member to receive a $120,000 scholarship to Regis University in Denver. The total award for all students amounts to over $1.5 million in scholarship money. Regis is hosting the state tournament this year, an aspect of the competition that applied physics teacher Jordan Englehart said is fortuitous.

“That was pretty amazing that we got that award and they got those scholarships,” he said. “It’s hard to conceptualize how amazing that is. It'’s a fantastic opportunity.”

Durango High School robotics team members Kai Brocker, 16, left, Peri Wright, 17, center, and Linus Prothero, 15, make adjustments to their task completing robot on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, at DHS. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Englehart is excited to see what the team does this year. After falling short at state last year, the team evaluated how they can compete in the autonomous portion of the contest. Students can earn bonus points if they program the robot to accomplish tasks autonomously.

He said the team left “free points on the board, like even minor tasks that could have got us some points” at state last year because they didn’t participate in the autonomous part of the competition.

This year’s competition will look a little bit different for the team, which returns many of same students from last year. This year’s team also has more coding experience this time around, Englehart said.

Last year’s competition involved navigating the robot around a 12-by-12-foot grid and placing cones on metal rods. This year, the team’s robot will be tasked with picking up flat disks and placing them in particular patterns.

Durango High School teacher physics teacher Jordan Englehart talks with his DHS Robo Demons robotics team members on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, at DHS. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

There also will be an obstacle placed in the middle of the grid, where the robot must weave around a swinging gate to score extra points.

“If their robot was too tall, they'd have to either zigzag through the track or find a way to lift the gate to get through,” Englehart said. “There’s a lot of kind of creative problem-solving, even just in how they approach the challenge.”

He says the students have been focused on diverse ways to score points. The goal is to try to stack as many of these flat disks as possible. But this year has a new twist with the “drone launcher.”

Durango High School robotics team, Robo Demons members, Kai Brocker, 16, left, and Rydin Hill, 18, and Linus Prothero, 15, looking on make adjustments to their task completing robot on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, at DHS. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The team can score additional points by using the robot to launch a paper airplane in a specified landing zone in the final 30 seconds of a round.

The team was diligent about reaching out to local sponsors this year after seeing other teams benefit from having that support. This year, StoneAge Inc. sponsored the team.

“They not only donated some money, but one of their engineers came into the school one day to just kind of look at our robots and give some ideas or feedback,” Englehart said.


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