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Domo Arigato: Atlee Robotics finishes their best season ever

MECHANICSVILLE, Va. -- The athletic teams at Atlee High School call themselves the Raiders. And there is more than enough Raider Nation pride to cover any field on which they might compete.

However, to assume that pride and competition stops at the sidelines would be a mistake.

"There's a lot of pressure to win, but also to communicate with other people and be able to say the right things and strategize," said Thomas Larson, an engineering teacher at Atlee.

"There's a lot of the tenacity and endurance, that determination that often gets overlooked," added Maria Wass, an Atlee senior. "Everyone on this team has a lot of determination to do whatever we can."

Those words could apply to the three-time state softball champs at Atlee or to football or basketball teams. But these words happen to reference the Atlee robotics team, which is coming off the most successful season in it's existence.

Headed by Larson, the team was given the outline of what their robot was required to do back in the fall. The parts and design of the bot were strictly up to the students.

"We can guide them with some ideas but we try to push the students to also think critical about what tasks are best for the game itself," Larson said.

What they came up with is Splinter, a forklift style robot that was truly a group effort. In promoting education in science, technology and math, this exercise also handed out lessons in working together as a team, and communicating. Perhaps more than the average teenager might like.

"It was a lot of asking people 'What can we do for this part of the robot?'" said Wass. "Then it was picking bits and pieces from everyone's ideas to come up with a preliminary design. From there it was what works in real life and what doesn't."

Splinter worked well enough to earn top five finishes at competitions at Deep Run and the Ashe Center. Competitions that are as strenuous as any game 7 might be.

"There's a lot of pressure, especially for the drivers who are on the field," Larson said.

"It's like a shot of adrenaline, I would say," added senior Tyler Smith. "You get there and it's just an electric feeling in the air."

Wass explained competition day:

"You're in the pit prepping, then you're on the field for competition and then suddenly you're in the pit prepping for your next match. You're on your feet all day but it's the best rush you'll ever have."

Especially when you perform well enough to be the first Atlee team to earn a spot in the world championships, based off their 12th place finish at a regional event in Maryland.

"They had announced the entire teams that qualified and we were that bubble team that was the last to be called," Smith recalled. "There are really no words to describe how exciting it is to see something like that come to fruition."

"It got silent and then they announced Circuitry 1599 and everyone screamed. I think four people were crying at the time," Wass added with a laugh.

The memories will last for a long time, but just as importantly, so will lessons learned in communication, teamwork and overcoming failure. Lessons that should prove valuable long after these students leave Atlee.

"They're unlike any group of people I've ever met," Smith said of his teammates. "They're very unique and a great group to be around."

"Everyone in this group is going to do well," said Wass. "You take the lessons that you learn from a group like this and they never really leave you."

The team finished 37th out of 64 teams in their division at the World Championships in Detroit, but they earned a world of experience to make their next trip even more successful.

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