Denham Springs robotics team to compete for world championship

DENHAM SPRINGS, La. — The Denham Venom, a FIRST Robotics competition team out of Denham Springs, will compete for a World Championship in Houston, Texas, next month.

The team, also known as FIRST Robotics Competition team 8044, is composed of 40 students from Denham Springs High and builds out of the Denham Springs High School STEM and Robotics Center.

Every year, FIRST Robotics Competitions introduces a new robot challenge. This year, the instructions were released worldwide on Jan. 6, and the Denham Springs-based team got to work constructing its robot, Amadeus. It took roughly two months to build for the competition season.

To qualify for next month’s FIRST Championship world event, the Denham Venom won the Magnolia Regional held in Laurel, Mississippi on March 15th and 16th. The group competed against 30 other teams from five states and ranked first in the qualifying matches before entering the double-elimination playoff tournament.

In the qualification round, three sets of teams are selected randomly to compete with each other against another set of three teams.

Crescendo, presented by Haas, is the game in which the robotics teams compete, according to Denham Venom coach Daniel Eiland. The team’s other coach is Danny Thomasson.

“This year, the theme is STEAM, so everything is loosely based on the idea of music,” Eiland explained. “The things we are picking up are called notes, basically foam rings. They are these large orange rings that you can shoot, and we shoot them into goals about 10 feet in the air. By the end of the game, we also had to climb a chain and lift the entire robot on this chain. We’re playing offensively and defensively against other teams trying to do the same thing.”

Other areas on the field of play can score points for teams. The field of play is the same size as a basketball court.

After the qualification round, the top teams can choose a team to compete with in the elimination matches.

Each match lasts two minutes and 30 seconds. The first 15 seconds are in autonomous mode, where students program the robots to run independently and score notes. The rest of the match is tele-operated.

“That’s where teams are driven by our drive team,” Eiland said. “There are two people who are driving, one driving the robot around and one doing all the scoring mechanisms.  They have a drive coach behind them, watching the full field and saying, ‘OK, this is coming up. Here’s how much time you have left,’ things to that extent.”

FIRST Robotics is an international organization comprising kindergarten through high school students.

The size of the robots increased with age. The younger students start with Lego robots and then advance to toaster-sized robots in middle school and human-sized robots at the high school level.

“We build 120-pound robots that are about as tall as a person when they stand on end,” Eiland said. “Everything that we build is custom. The kids do all the programming and all the wiring. It’s all done in-house by students at our build site.”

The Denham Springs STEM and Robotics Center on Range Avenue is a satellite school of Denham Springs High and started in 2019.

Eiland said the team has 40 students, and each plays a key role in the team’s success.

There are roughly 12 students who scout other teams, and there is a pit crew that services and monitors the robot between matches. There is also a media crew that video-scouts and records each match at the tournament and takes photos during the matches. A student leadership group also makes sure things run smoothly.

“The coaches and mentors, we’re there to help the students, walk them through processes,” Eiland said. “We help them with the design and management, but when it comes down to it, it’s the students who maintain and run the whole thing.”

Kelly Duke, mother of senior Denham Venom member Nathan Duke, said her son has been involved with the robotics team since his freshman year. She said the program has allowed her son to become a leader and have experiences he will remember for the rest of his life.

“My son is a very shy, introverted person,” Kelly Duke said. ” I’ve seen him speak in front of groups of hundreds, which I would have never had in a million years had thought he would have done. It teaches you to cooperate with other people to get jobs done. They’re learning teamwork and skills that these kids can bring into any field.”

The World Championships are scheduled for April 17-20 in Houston. The Denham Venom will be competing against 600 teams from 30 countries.

“The big thing for us is not just producing college students. That’s not our goal to say, ‘Okay, we’re trying to get kids ready for college’,” Eiland said. “We’re trying to produce employees who, after they graduate, have skills they don’t learn in college. What we do is we’re teaching them the soft skills, like teamwork and analytical skills.”

The team is looking to raise $25,000 to cover travel and registration for the tournament. To donate, click here.

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