Lincoln-Way Central dominates at SouthWorks Robotics Competition
Thursday, April 26, 2018

Although the official Lincoln-Way Central Robotics Club formed less than four months ago, the Knights are already making an impression in the field. On Saturday, April 14, 2018, the club competed for their first time among 23 schools and approximately 200 competitors in the SouthWorks Robotics Competition. The Knights medaled in three of the four categories they entered.

“We had no idea what to expect,” says sponsor Todd Drumheller. “We wondered if we’d show up and be embarrassed; it was quite the opposite. Other teams were taking pictures of our robots.”

The Knights placed first in the catapult, third in the sumo bot and third in the autonomous racer.

Although students broke into separate groups to work on different robots, they say it was a “collective group effort,” with many students offering advice and ideas to other students, essentially working on more than one project at time.

“During the first competition, I was nervous,” says student Ryan St. Clair. His nerves settled when his robot pushed the first competitor out in seven seconds. “We came into this competition not knowing how our robots would place and there were very close matches. For our first time, this was great,” he says.

Despite their lack of experience in competition, the catapult team took first. “We really tested the design of our catapult. We spent a couple days before the competition pulling the arm of the catapult back to marked intervals to see how far it went. Then we worked on the mechanical equation to figure out the trajectory,” says team member Arick Hauschild.

The catapult competition ended in a shootout between the Knights and one other team: Illiana Christian High School. With only three practice attempts allowed, the Knights hit a bullseye on their official attempt.

“I remember watching the shot go up and the first reaction between all three of us was looking at each other and we just couldn’t believe it hit,” says Jack Benzing. “This was our first competition and this is what we’ve done to further our engineering careers and what we can see ourselves doing. Now I know what I want to do with my career.”

Although many robots were group efforts, freshman Knight Dominick Abraham single handily designed and built an autonomous racer. All his hard work payed off by beating teams with much more experience, winning third overall. “If he can do this as a freshman, we cannot wait to see what the future holds for Dominick,” says Drumheller.

Student Jessica Bowers, who Drumheller refers to as “the programming queen,” is proud of the Knights’ success. “I came into this club not knowing what to expect. I knew nothing of programming but it was really cool to get my feet wet with robotics and go to the competition,” she says. Although females tend to be minorities at robotics competitions, Bowers said they support one another and are excited to see similar interest from like-competitors. “It was cool to see other groups of girls and what they’d worked on and how far they’d come along too,” she says.

Bowers’ teammate, Julia Roessler, echoes her sentiments. She says, “As a girl going into an engineering career, I think that potentially one of the most intimidating things is that you walk into a classroom and it’s filled with guys, but I think that going to the competition and having a small team of girls and seeing other teams of successful girls is really empowering. You see other girls are doing really well and you smile at them and you know that this is the future of engineering for women.” According to Drumheller, Roessler was an “original instigator” who pushed to officiate the Lincoln-Way Central Robotics Club.

Lincoln-Way Science Department Chair Sarah Highfill says, “I truly appreciate Todd Drumheller’s time, effort and patience with the team…From here, we can only get stronger, and now everyone is afraid of the Knights.”

“Next year we intend on doing more competitions,” says Drumheller. “People had $1500 invested in their robots. We had maybe $100. Other people had pre-fabricated kits, but our kids had such a superior design to the other robots. Our kids just engineered the heck out of these things.”