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Friday, June 02, 2023

The cold, metal heart of a robot warmed by friendship

Howard W. Bishop Middle School students aim to advance to global robotics competition

The Josy residence stands about a five-minute walk away from Howard W. Bishop Middle School. The Josy’s living room is often used for lounging and family time, but from 3 to 5 p.m. on any given school day, it’s transformed into a world-class robot-building hub. 

Nat 20 is Howard W. Bishop Middle School’s highest-rated robotics team, and they aim to prove themselves later this month at the VexIQ Middle School World Championship in Dallas, Texas. In the meantime, the team has plenty of work to do. 

The team is excited to have the opportunity to compete, 14-year-old Chris Cheever said. Chris is an eighth grade student, a Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast and the Chief Coder of the Nat 20 squad. 

“We have gotten to the threshold,” he said. “We are trying our best to do our best and get the highest we possibly can at Worlds.” 

This is Chris’s first year doing Vex robotics competitions, but he insists that if his prior schools had this opportunity, he would’ve competed earlier.

The rest of the team has been competing as early as the fifth grade.

Teammates Arlo Sawicki, Isaiah Josy and Zach Connerly make up the rest of the 150th place, globally-ranked Nat 20 team. 

The reason this team resembles a well-oiled machine? Friendship. 

Unlike most amateur sports teams, where chemistry is left to the luck of the draw, these students chose their group. The only issue they had was Isaiah’s allergy to Sawicki’s cat, Lynx, they said. 

They quickly fixed it by relocating the workshop to Isaiah’s house, which led to more productivity and less sneezing.

Among of the 800 teams competing at the World Championship, this team was confident they belonged. 

Jennifer Gayaut-Josy, 41, is one of Nat 20’s biggest supporters. She’s also Isaiah’s mom. 

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“It's just been incredible for me to watch them be incredibly dedicated and so hard-working to accomplishing a goal they have,” she said. 

Gayaut-Josy said she knew they were the real deal when her son told her that his team was good and she better start saving money to send him to the world championship. 

Money is one of the most important factors associated with robotics competitions, said Karen Murray, 55, who coaches all 19 robotics teams at Howard W. Bishop Middle School.

This is Murray’s sixth year teaching robotics, along with coaching for the VexIQ competitions. This isn't her first year sending her kids to the world championship either.

Last year saw one of Howard W. Bishop’s teams place ninth in the world.

In order to cover the cost of plane tickets to Dallas, along with the hardware that can cost thousands of dollars, Murray and the team have resorted to fundraising and sponsorships by local companies: restaurant Satch Squared and T-shirt printer Monster Press.

March 30, Howard W. Bishop hosted STEAM Night for all who wished to attend. Attendees could buy pizza and drinks while watching practice robotics tournaments for the up-and-coming sixth and seventh-grade teams. 

They raised over $1,000 in two hours that night.

As for the real tournaments, Murray said anything that could happen would happen on the day of the competition.

“The team that went last year, it was like their robot was allergic to competitions,” she said.

Luckily enough, teams are judged on both effectiveness and their code, which was last year’s team’s strength. But this year’s team said it relies heavily on creativity.

“Robotics is about creative thinking,” Sawicki said. “I think the best example of that is the ‘Purple Mechanism.’”

The ‘Purple Mechanism,’ as the team calls it, is a purple piece of plastic needed for their final product. It is an efficiency nightmare, according to Sawicki. This roadblock causes the need for creative solutions along with creating the margins between the best and the rest. 

Nat 20 flies out on Saturday for their tournament with hopes of victory and hopefully all of their pieces off of the Robys’ living room floor. Stepping on the VexIQ pieces feels like stepping on giant LEGO parts, Gayaut-Josy said. 

Contact Jake at Follow him on Twitter @JakeLyn20488762.

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Jake Lynch

Jake Lynch is a third-year journalism major. He is a South Florida native that loves to spend time with family and friends. He has no idea what he wants to do with his life but he hopes this helps.

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