DAYTON - Four Dayton High School students and their coach went to Cheney last week to find out what FIRST Robotics Competition was all about.
"They were just going up there to have fun and learn lots. That was their only expectations," said coach and ag teacher Steve McLean.
Instead, they came home with a spot in national competition in St. Louis, Mo., April 25-28, and the $18,000 price tag to go with the trip, including a deadline of noon today to come up with the $5,000 entry fee.
Sophomore Lincoln Riley, one of the team members, said he was feeling kind of bad the team hadn't given any thought to fundraising before they went to the regional meet. "We had no idea this was going to happen," he said.
The other team members are junior James Costello, senior Alex Eaton, and junior Demetri Tziouvars.
The team was self-selected. "These four are the ones that showed the most interest, and they did basically all of it. It certainly wasn't me," McLean said.
The project was part of the Ag Metals classes taught by McLean.
The robotics adventure began when McLean received a $7,000 grant, which included parts for a robot. The students had six weeks to build a robot that could pick up basketballs and score baskets, balance on bridges and teeter-totters and maneuver around a gymnasium.
There were 48 teams in the competition in Cheney, and five teams earned the right to go to St. Louis.
Although awed with the unexpected success, what the team and McLean were most impressed with was how they were welcomed and helped by the other participants and coaches.
"When we first got up there we were very overwhelmed. Most of the people had big robots with pneumatics, cameras for shooting the basketballs. We kind of felt like outsiders," Lincoln said.
"I can't stress the kindness. They came over to help the rookies out and that was just amazing," he said.
As a component of the competition, teams have to form alliances. Dayton's team was aligned with Aviation High School from the Seattle area, and a team from Boise Independent School District's Technical Education Center.
Lincoln described how the three teams cooperated to shoot basketballs in a 15-second time frame. One robot was the designated shooter, Dayton's robot held the balls in a side hopper, and the third robot bumped into the hopper, sending the released balls to a scoop on the shooter robot.
"The last two games were amazing because we got four shots off," Lincoln said.
"I think we did pretty good for a rookie team with no prior experience," Lincoln said.
"We kind of felt like underdogs most of the way through. When we got in the finals, it was kind of like, whoa, is this really happening? It was unreal, that's the best way I can describe it.
McLean attributed the students' success to "lots and lots and lots of help from other schools, my kids were willing to listen and do what was suggested, and luck."
Superintendent Doug Johnson noted that the Dayton team may have had a secret weapon. "Other teams competing have mentors from Hewlett Packard, Boeing and Micron just to name a couple. We had our Southeast Washington farmer work ethic and it turned out OK," he said.
McLean said he plans to recruit some engineers as mentors for the team next year. He noted Aviation High School team is affiliated with Boeing, and a Hewlett-Packard engineer coaches the Boise team.
But McLean's immediate problem is money for the entry fee, and he was waiting to hear from corporate sponsors this morning.
Those wishing to help can send donations to the Dayton School District Office, 609 S. Second St. Checks should be made out to the Dayton School District.