2023 Trobotics Team at VEX World Championship

Six members of the BCHS robotics team, along with Trobotics coach Gary Pritts, boarded a flight on April 25 to take part in the VEX Robotics World Championship in Dallas, Texas. The 2023 competition, which ran April 25 – 27, marked the first time a Trojan team has participated in-person in a VEX World Championship.

The BCHS Trobotics team competed in 10 qualifying matches and finished with a record of 5-5. While they did not make it to the final tournament, Mr. Pritts said, “I’m so proud of this team for going head-to-head with the best robots in the world and showing that we absolutely belong in that group.”

Bishop Chatard’s 5690T team, along with their robot “High Maintenance,” qualified for Worlds based on scores received during its November – March competition season and at the state competition in March. The 5690T team includes seniors Jacqui Felts and Shafer Hofmann; juniors Mark Gejdos, Zoe Williamson and Andie Adams; and sophomore Meg McNamar.

Teammates Mark and Zoe said that they began to realize in February that qualifying for the World competition was a possibility for 5690T. “At state,” Zoe added, “we were trying not to get our hopes up by we really wanted to go to Worlds!”

While qualifying for the journey to Dallas was a victory in itself, the team looked forward to competing with the best of the best from all over the world.

“Going to the VEX World competition this year has been one of the greatest accomplishments of my life thus far,” Shafer said. “I had never even considered possibly going to Worlds, but we made it and even had a winning record in the qualifying rounds.”

Mr. Pritts credits “fantastic individual talent” on this year’s team as one of many keys to success. “All had jobs,” he said, “and they did them well.”

Participation in the school’s robotics program helps students to see how the concepts they learn in school are applied, explained Mr. Pritts, who teaches Physics, AP Physics and Principals of Engineering. “The better you understand the mechanisms that you are working with, the better you can apply them.”

Shafer plans on studying computer science at Purdue University next year, and he is confident that the programming experience he gained as part of Trobotics will support his college pursuits. He also points to his coach’s teaching style as a factor in helping the team reach this new level.

“Mr. Pritts has been an incredible coach and teacher throughout the years. He always has great solutions to any problem we come upon, but first he lets us think it through and try to work the problem out on our own,” Shafter added.

Hoosier support for STEM

Indiana is known for having strong STEM and robotics programs, and that is due in great part, Mr. Pritts said, to the work of former Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. Mayor Ballard started the Indianapolis VEX Robotics Championship in 2012 to provide an opportunity for all Indianapolis high school students to participate in a world class robotics event.

Since that time, in conjunction with TechPoint Foundation for Youth and other public and private entities, middle school and grade school divisions have been added and the competition was expanded to a statewide event. The expansion of STEM education in the state made Indiana a national leader in STEM education efforts and led to Indiana sending 119 teams to this year’s VEX World Championship, more than any other state in the nation.

The “filter-down effect” of early STEM education, Mr. Pritts said, is becoming evident in high schools. Success begets success, he said, and early exposure builds both skills and confidence.

Setting the bar
Bishop Chatard currently has three robotics teams. The teams are coached by Mr. Pritts, along with assistant coaches including Joe Bormann, a 2015 BCHS graduate who now works as a computer engineer writing code and designing electronics with Helmer Scientific. Many of the students who participate in Trobotics, Mr. Pritts said, continue in STEM fields in college.

While only one of the teams is traveling to the VEX Robotics World Championship this year, the goal, team members say, is to have all teams qualify for the state competition next year and for more than one to continue to Worlds.

“The last part of the competition is the reveal for the next year’s game, and our team has already started planning,” Mr. Pritts said, “with their sights set on returning to Worlds in 2024.”

In addition to the academic benefits of robotics team competition, the coach said that he has enjoyed watching how participation has encouraged his students to dream big. “At the beginning of the season, they are unsure about what they can achieve, and at this point in the year (late winter) they can see it. This process helps you to dream big!”

Follow the Bishop Chatard Trobotics at twitter.com/Trobotics.