Champions of the Pandemic by Madison McDonagh

June 17, 2020

We all sat in anticipation waiting to hear who would win the Inspire award at the First Tech Challenge robotics state competition at MSU. This award would determine who would compete at the robotics world championship in Houston, Texas.

The Anaconda Robolution team. Champions of Montana!

Robolution is a team that consists of Montana high schoolers from Butte and Anaconda; this is only their second year as a team and their confidence has grown immensely since last year. They listened and felt relieved each time they didn’t hear their name called especially for the design award which they won the past two competitions they attended.

Throughout the competition, Robolution had dealt with problems with their robot; during each match the robot would shut down due to a high amount of static electricity on the playing field. They tried everything to fix it­— sprayed it with static spray and even wiped it with dryer sheets. The team soon began to convince themselves that they did not win any awards and tried planning how they could travel to Idaho or Wyoming to compete in their state competitions. Then it came down to the final award, the inspire award, which is given to the team who exhibits gracious professionalism, is willing to help out other teams if something happens to their robot, and overall is respectful to other teams, judges, and referees. The announcer finally reached the Inspire award and took his time to declare Robolution as the winners.

Madison McDonagh helped to support and mentor the team during her year of AmeriCorps service at the Montana Tech Institute for Educational Opportunities.

The initial shock wore off quickly and turned into cheers as they all ran to collect their awards. The entire team celebrated on the bus ride back and immediately began planning how they can improve their robot to make it the best for the world’s competition in April. They took time in meetings to set up goals for what they wanted accomplished each month. They presented at the school board meeting in Anaconda and sent out letters to local businesses as a way to fundraise for the trip to Houston, Texas were the competition would be held.

Robolution was on track to make their robot competition ready and to have any other supplies they needed ready to go. As the number of people infected with COVID-19 began to increase, it became a discussion that the team needed to be prepared for the possible cancelation of the event, but it was still hard news to hear when it was officially cancelled. The official cancelation was announced a little over a month before the competition; the team was presenting their robot to middle school students who were participating in the Regional Science Fair at Montana Tech. They were of course crushed when they heard the news, but many pep talks from their parents and everyone who helped the team throughout the year allowed them to understand that although they would not compete in April, they were still state champions and a global pandemic could not take that away from them.

2020 has been full of so many changes and we’re only halfway through it. My service has changed so much since the closures of businesses and schools were enforced. It became a “new normal” to mentor students through a webcam instead of in-person. The state has slowly reopened but we still have to take certain precautions to ensure that COVID-19 isn’t spread further. Robolution was just one group that has been impacted by the pandemic, and it’s inspiring that they did not let that destroy the hope they have for next year— when I think they can easily become state champions again!

MTCC AmeriCorps Leader Madison McDonagh sharing about her service experience during the 2020 Montana College Attainment Network conference.

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