After regional victory, Nolan High School’s “Robo Vikes” head to championship

by Juan Guajardo

North Texas Catholic

April 3, 2017

Students in the robotics club at Nolan High School do a demo run with "The Game," the robot with which they took home first place last month. The robotics team will head to Houston April 19-22 for the FIRST Robotics Competition World Championship. (NTC photo/Adrean Indolos)

FORT WORTH — For members of Nolan Catholic High School’s robotics team, the hundreds of hours of after-school and weekend work, study, fundraising, and building paid off.

After taking first place at the international FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition Dallas Regional in Irving on March 12, the team is looking forward to the World Championship in Houston, April 19-22.

“It’s one of the best things ever to happen to our program,” said Dr. Robert Scheer, moderator of the “Robo Vikes” team and a veteran physics and engineering teacher at Nolan High School. “We did a good job. When we won regional it was a validation of our philosophy.”

In line with Nolan Catholic’s mission, the team seeks to empower students.

“We give them the skills and knowledge, and let them make the decisions,” Scheer said. “They lead the team. They learn how to work together.”

At the Irving regional, the team competed against 54 other schools — some from as far away as Chile and Brazil. Now the Robo Vikes look forward to honing their robot, “The Game,” at another regional in San Antonio, before competing against 600 other teams in Houston.

Ray Depta, also a team moderator and a longtime instructor at Nolan, said that while the team won regional back in 2012, that year the Robo Vikes’s robot played a “minor role” in the tournament.

The FIRST Robotics tournament features a weekend-long competition where teams collaborate in order to perform challenging tasks with their robots, like lifting and loading gears, launching balls, and even climbing up a rope. The event takes place on a basketball-sized court.

This year, however, “we were like the star pitcher,” Depta said.

Branding itself as the “ultimate sport for the mind,” the FIRST Robotics competition requires high school students to build an industrial-size robot in six weeks, with limited resources and under strict rules. The competition challenges students to learn teamwork and leadership skills, time management, and to raise funds, which involves developing marketing presentations and finding sponsors.

The Nolan drive team included Alejandro Araujo, David Yokell, Alec Austin, Jack DeRuntz, and was captained by mentor Kevin LaPerriere. They were assisted by teammate Adrianna Araujo, lead scout.

About 50 students make up Nolan’s robotics club, and they put in anywhere from three to 30 hours a week.

Depta and Scheer are quick to point out that the club is about more than robots. Faith, virtues, and helping others are also key focus points of the program.

To that end, Depta, who has also taught theology, wrote an “Engineer’s Prayer” that the team recites before each meeting, encouraging them to remember “that work is the way we participate in the Divine task of creation and contribute to the common good.”

“By creating beautiful and functional things we become more fully human,” Depta said.

The Nolan High School "Robo Vikes" (center) are seen after their first place finish at the FIRST Robotics Regional Competition in Irving March 12. (Photo courtesy Nolan High School) 

Team members also mentor other youth, host Lego robotics competitions and events, work with junior high robotics teams, and volunteer at community events. At the same time, Robo Vikes learn life skills, like discipline, time management, communication, teamwork, and problem solving — plus some technical skills, like welding, milling, design, and programming.

The after school program also puts into practice what students learn in the classroom: math, physics, and science.

Senior David Yokell, who led the task of designing and fabricating the competition robot, said he got involved in the robotics club as a freshman at Nolan.

 “It’s been a whole lot of fun the entire way,” he said. “We learn a whole lot of skills, life lessons.” 

FORT WORTH — For members of Nolan Catholic High School’s robotics team, the hundreds of hours of after-school and weekend work, study, fundraising, and building paid off.

Published (until 12/27/2035)