By Meg Dickens

The Johnson County High School Robotics Teams are a close-knit group that really knows its way around a robot. This school year alone the JCHS teams took home the following titles and awards: A Judge’s Award, two Excellence Awards, a Design Award, and two Best Costumes Awards. The teams added another Judge’s Award and a Tournament Champion win at the competition in Dandridge on February 17th.

Team sponsor and teacher, Kasi Dishman, expressed her pride in these students. “The robotics teams dedicate literally hundreds of hours just in the time that we meet afterschool each week. Their determination and hard work is a credit to the support of parents and volunteers that have instilled strong work ethics in them, and as a result these students continue to represent Johnson County well at each competition they attend.”

Team A members are: Dalton Sluder, builder and team leader; Ryan Bilodeau, driver; Jackson Mays, programmer and back-up driver; Lauren Patterson, journalist. Team B members are: Jonathon Wilcox, team leader, builder, and driver; Alex Jennings, builder and back-up driver; Emily Irizarry, programmer; Kobe Cox, journalist. Many of these students started out in their middle school years.

Sluder, Mays, Jennings, and Wilcox date back to the program’s beginning. According to Sluder, “we’re all nerds who wanted to understand how it works.” In the process, they learned a wide variety of invaluable skills for both robotics and life. Irizarry explained that programming “is all about trial and error.” It is a meticulous job that is very unforgiving in the way that one mistake can seriously alter the code. Timing is the most difficult part to code due to the need to hit within a hundredth of a second. Her most recent project for Team B was to create a dripper clip, which combines information from all programs created into one place. Team A is hard at work on its autonomous proficiency.

“I stepped out of my comfort zone a lot.” Cox admitted. “But the club is very inviting.” The program is about a lot more than just building robots. It is about problem solving, trial and error, persistence, and self-expression. It may be a stereotype that “nerds” are only into academics but that is far from the truth. Sluder pointed out that competing leads to crossing paths with a wide variety of individuals. On the JCHS side alone, there are three students currently on sports teams. Sluder offered the advice “don’t stereotype yourself. People are diverse and have lots of varied interests.”

“It’s not as boring as it sounds,” Bilodeau pointed out. Irizarry encouraged students “even if you have the slightest interest, go for it. There is somewhere in there for you.” The JCHS Robotics program is a great place for learning something new and making friends. This is more than just a fun hobby. Skills gained here are beneficial for a multitude of careers. Students such as Jennings, Wilcox, Sluder, and Mays can use their robotics knowledge for a leg up in their planned careers. The other students can apply skills such as team building, communication, and problem solving to further their chosen careers. This program also looks good on college applications and may lead to scholarships from Vex Robotics. The teams continue to excel. Focus now goes to the State Competition in Brentwood, Tennessee on March 2nd and 3rd. Hopefully a trip to the World Competition is in their future.