BBHMS Robotics Team travels to Dallas for World Championships

by Martin McConnell

Head coach of Brecksville-Broadview Heights Middle School’s robotics team, Casey Kowatch has been around robotics since he was on Nordonia High School’s team. But if you ask him, the world of robotics isn’t nearly as big as it should be in the grand scheme of things.

But for one glorious April week in Dallas, Texas, the VEX Robotics program seemed like the center of the universe, Kowatch said.

The Bees were well represented at this year’s VEX Robotics World Championship, bringing multiple teams to the competition.

The annual world title tournament, recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest robotics competition, regularly brings in over 3,000 teams from countries at all corners of the globe. According to Kowatch, 23, it was a tremendous experience for the middle school teams.

“I just really love making the different mechanisms and seeing how they work,” Kowatch said.

“Fiddling with the parts, and trying to make things that normally wouldn’t be possible, possible.

It’s just something that I enjoy a lot.”

Kowatch said that each year, the VEX Robotics governing body designs a new challenge for their teams. From there, the teams are left to their own devices in creating a robot that can tackle that particular challenge. This year, Kowatch explained that the game was “a lot like disc golf.”

“They’ve done different [robotics] games with stacking cubes really tall, they’ve done bean bags that you have to pick up and throw into these little containers,” he said. “Every year, it’s something different. You can’t use the same robot, and it really makes the kids have to come up with cool and creative ideas.”

One of the most interesting things about the world championship tournament, Kowatch said, was a sort of robotics culture shock that he and the team received. The way that some teams decide to play the game is so drastically different from that of Brecksville, despite the robot still fitting into the normal parameters.

“Seeing how they play the game compared to us is a lot of fun,” he said. “The big thing with this game was offense versus defense, and the different types of robots that you could build to better succeed in those different ways.”

Some robots were more speed-based, while others were focused on long-distance disc shooting, Kowatch said. A few were solely based on disrupting the other team’s shooting form by crashing into them, he said.

The Bees’ two world championship-qualified teams advanced to the round of 16 and the quarterfinals respectively, before their eliminations from the competition. Still, Kowatch said he is extremely proud of the work his team did this year.

“The team has been great,” he said. “They’re a lot of fun to coach. They’re always very passionate about building and programming their robots. Not all of [the students] are interested in sports, and other clubs that you always see, like debate or Science Olympiad. This is just their niche that they really enjoy.”

Kowatch took pride in his own performance as a coach as well. Taking a team to the final eight, out of over 3,000 teams, is a serious accomplishment for this year’s middle school squad. In the future, he hopes to push his team even further.

“Being able to coach at that caliber, and being able to say, yeah, I was able to push my kids to the world competition, it’s something I’m very proud of,” Kowatch said. ∞

The Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School and Middle School Robotics Teams
attended the largest robotics competition this year where more than 3,000 teams competed.
The district’s high school team is ranked seventh in the world. Photo submitted.