Knights have pioneers in the world of robotics

Knights have pioneers in the world of robotics
Dave Mast

West Holmes High School sophomores Collin Badger, left, and Miles Malasch work on their robot while fellow sophomore Owen Malasch works on coding.


Working in the realm of robotics is a growing field in high schools across the nation, and rightly so, since that field continues to create new job opportunities for students who hope to someday find employment in the field.

Three years ago West Holmes Middle School dove into the world of robotics, creating a class and offering it to middle school students.

It didn’t take long for the class to find a permanent home in the school’s curriculum, nor did it want for students interested in learning all about robotics.

West Holmes Middle School teacher Brooke Fox has headed up the robotics program in both high school and junior high, and she said the program began in very humble beginnings, where she was teaching Lego robotics in class.

When the district received state funding, Fox wanted to take the program to the next level, and the middle school program was born.

“It really exploded quickly and garnered a ton of interest immediately,” Fox said. “There was definitely a trial-and-error period, but we got rolling, and every year we have expanded by one grade level.”

Currently, the program is for seventh grade through 10th grade, with that projected to expand to 11th grade next year.

“It’s really growing, and it’s exciting to see something like this that kids can get excited about,” West Holmes Middle School Principal Jeff Woods said.

One big reason for the expansion to the junior class is because a trio of the program’s young pioneers are currently sophomores and have earned their way to a state appearance.

Twin brothers Owen and Miles Malasch and fellow sophomore Collin Badger have been with the robotics program since its inception.

Together they have helped pioneer the program, wading through all of the obstacles and tackling the huge learning curve to help quickly grow the program. It has grown to such lengths that the high school hosted a large robotics tournament in November of this school year, and it was extremely well-received.

They took a turn at the 2023 Ohio Vex Robotics Competition High School State Championship last year, where they admitted they didn’t have any clue what they were supposed to be doing, but that served as a critical learning experience, and now the trio will take on the top teams in the state with much greater understanding.

“Yeah, we were completely lost last year at state, but it was a great learning experience for us to go through,” Miles Malasch said.

Owen Malasch said the robot they built for that competition was a little claw bot that was fairly rudimentary. Thus they didn’t have high expectations. That is a very different attitude than they have this year, where they expect big things.

“Everything was pretty foreign to us last time around, but this year we are very prepared,” Badger said. “We’re excited to compete with the best of the best now.”

At state teams compete in several stages including qualifying matches, skill challenges and elimination matches, and teams also are judged on their engineering notebook information that includes criteria, procedures and rubrics. Competitions include both drivers of the robots and programmers, and this trio has invested plenty of time in learning every aspect of the competition.

“Because of the grant we received, we’ve been able to get everything we need, and it’s helped grow the program a lot,” Miles Malasch said. “We finally figured out what we’re doing because there is a lot that goes into it.”

Working in robotics has been inspiring for all three of the sophomores, where they haven’t simply learned the integral parts of how robotics work, but also have found the joy in creating something from scratch, building a blueprint and watching it work exactly how they had hoped it would.

“It’s really cool to work with robots and see a creation we made come to life,” Owen Malasch said. “It gives us a real experience of what it might be like working in the robotics field in the future.”

“Coding it and building it is educational, but at the same time, we are having a lot of fun working together,” Miles Malasch said. “And what’s really exciting is going out and competing in an arena where we get to use our creativity.”

Badger said the challenge in the creative part is something they all cherish, and creating something new, building a code and watching the robot go to work is what keeps them striving to come up with newer and better ideas on how to improve their robot.

“I love the idea of using our imaginations to dream up something new and finding out if it works or not,” Badger said. “Actually making something that didn’t exist before is incredibly exciting.”

In addition to the fun stuff, the trio also has to deal with setbacks, overcome glitches and problems, and work together to develop solutions to perfect their robot.

All three agreed teamwork is central to success, an area where they believe they have a huge advantage over many teams. They do an inordinate amount of work together outside of class, and they all are invested in competing against the state’s best.

“You won’t get anywhere without teamwork, and if we weren’t on the same page, we wouldn’t be successful in competition,” Miles Malasch said.

While the state competition is at hand, the ultimate goal of the trio is to do well enough to qualify for the World Championship series in one of the dozen categories.

Ohio VRC has 27 World spots, with 16 awarded at state and the remaining spots presented to teams with strong skills scores at the state level.

More importantly, the three serve as pioneers in the school’s robotics program, and all enjoy taking on that mantle and helping younger students learn to grow into the program.

“There’s some pressure there because we were the first and it’s important for us to share our knowledge with younger kids and help them better understand robotics,” Owen Malasch said.

All three said they look forward to mentoring a middle school team next year to help them learn the ropes so they too can hopefully compete at state.

The 2024 Ohio VRC High School State Championship will take place March 8-9 at Marion County Fairgrounds.

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