Portable Chargers continue journey

Published 8:30 am Thursday, April 14, 2016

Central High School began a new journey this year.

With major help from Mid-Atlantic Broadband, Showbest Furniture Corp., Benchmark Community Bank, Kenbridge Construction, Kenbridge Building Supply, Lunenburg County Farm Bureau, Bailey Stews, Wallace Auto Parts, Victoria Fire and Rescue, Wilktech Inc. and Lunenburg County Public Schools, the journey was a success; and the Portable Chargers, with their robot Colt, were born.

(Photo by Connie Wilkinson) The Portable Chargers’ robots.

(Photo by Connie Wilkinson)
The Portable Chargers’ robots.

As a rookie team, with an inexperienced coach and 11 students who had no knowledge of how to build a robot, this group accomplished a lot. Agreeing to compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition, they had a lot to learn and work on in a very short amount of time.

On Jan. 9, FIRST opened up the competition with rules and the game challenge. Each team would then have approximately 6 1/2 weeks to learn the rules, build a robot and learn how to compete in the playing field.

Keep in mind that the team lost 10 of the 46 days due to weather and other school closings. With literally blood sweat and tears, the team accomplished a build by the stop build day of Feb. 23.

On March 11, the team ventured for its first competition at Blacksburg High School.  Competing against 34 other teams, the Portable Chargers were overwhelmed at the moment they walked in the doors. Coming in with a robot on a wagon and nine plastic tool boxes with hand tools, they are immediately met with rolling tool chests, power tools and air wrenches. Other teams were setting up their pit areas with scaffoldings, digital signs, banners and large power tools, while the Portable Chargers were busy setting up posters and fliers and adjusting their toolboxes.

When the matches started, the team finally passed inspection with less than five minutes to go. The team was set for its first match, fans cheering, team excited, coach anxious and the judges black flagged the robot for a bumper issue. A few matches later, the team had their second attempt to see what they could do, and it was a success; though they were nowhere near where their teammates or their opponents were, the team saw success in that they had designed and built an operating robot.

As the matches went, the Portable Chargers improved drastically and by the end of the qualifying matches, they had placed themselves in a position where they could be chosen to be in the elimination matches. Seeing teams chosen one by one, the Chargers were disappointed not to be chosen, and left the weekend with only 11 ranking points and with a final ranking of 27th out of 35 teams.

With a week before its next competition, and by rule, 6 hours to improve their robot, the team spent the next week frantically working on Colt. And on March 18, they would see their work pay off. The team would more t

han triple their ranking points with 34, conquer and complete multiple defenses that could not be done previously, and with the help of several members of the Bluestone squad, the Portable chargers spent the majority of day one just inside or just outside of the top 10.

With only four of the 12 qualifying matches left, the team was in a great position … and then … a battery came loose in one match, partner robots got stuck or broke down, and a facing of three rookie teams against three of the top six ranked teams dropped the Portable Chargers fast. Dropping from 12th to 27th in three matches, it seemed that the season was going to end on a sour note.

In the final match, the team racked up some points, got the win and defeated teams that it needed to and once again put itself in position to make it to the elimination round.

The team watched closely as 21 of the 22 teams were chosen, and with the final pick, team 5459 was chosen, and the Portable Chargers made it. They were selected to be in the elimination rounds.

In round one, the three-team alliance that the Portable Chargers were on, all in red, defeated their opponents in two straight matches to make it to the quarterfinals. In the quarterfinals, the red alliance defeated their opponent with unbelievable scores. The small rookie team from Lunenburg was going to be in the championship match. A win would solidify the opportunity to move on to Annapolis. A loss would be a sit and wait.

In the first match, one of the robots on the Red Alliance lost power, leaving the Chargers and their other partner to battle. The team’s first loss was given, but with it being a best two of three, the team did not panic.

In the second match, one of the team’s driving belts broke, leading to a second loss, but the Portable Chargers and Colt were still intact, with a second-place finish, a final ranking of 11 out of 35 and heads held high.

Fifty-eight teams were chosen to move on to Annapolis, Md., for the district tournament.  The Portable Chargers ended their ranking at 58, and were hoping to be in, however FIRST Robotics gives automatic births to the tournament to two teams throughout the season, knocking the 57th and 58th seeded teams out. Central later learned that the 57th ranked team got in because of a team backing out, so the rookie team from Lunenburg County was the best team outside of the tournament.

“I am very proud of the accomplishments that this group of young men and women earned. I could not have asked for a better rookie team,” said coach Mark Bailey. “I can not begin to list all of the SOL’s and Competencies that the team learned throughout the season, but I can say that the life lesson skills that they learned were priceless. I have coached multiple teams from school, to private, athletic to academic, boys, girls, and coed, and I have never seen any organization that can hold a candle to what FIRST represents. I encourage any student at the high school to get involved, any member of the community to see about volunteering, and any business to help out. The Portable Chargers represented this county very well, and with a little more help, who knows how far this ‘not rookies any more’ team can go.”