The Madison-Ridgeland Academy robotics team competes in the state finals of the Mississippi FIRST Tech Challenge Championship on Saturday. Members of the team are front, Alden Bailey, John David Phillips, Josh Khanna, Ian Wright, Will Thompson, Jack Laws and back row, Chesley Price, Animesh Kumar, George Dew, Conner Ivey and Carter Wachtel.
The Madison-Ridgeland Academy robotics team competes in the state finals of the Mississippi FIRST Tech Challenge Championship on Saturday. Members of the team are front, Alden Bailey, John David Phillips, Josh Khanna, Ian Wright, Will Thompson, Jack Laws and back row, Chesley Price, Animesh Kumar, George Dew, Conner Ivey and Carter Wachtel.
King Louis heads into the competition arena this weekend, showcasing the hard work, creativity and innovation of the Madison-Ridgeland Academy robotics team.

The 11-member team, ranging from eighth-graders to seniors, is competing against 23 other teams in the Mississippi FIRST Tech Challenge Championship held at the University of Mississippi. The MRA team, now in its third year, finished in second place at state the past two years.

“We’re feeling good about our chances,” said junior Jack Law, a member of the team for all three years. “This is our best build and our coding has been solid. This has been our best season so far. We built it to be more competitive.”

The MRA robot is known as King Louis because one of his parts is a “guillotine” that grabs oversize plastic bricks and drags them so that an arm, also on the robot, can place them on a tower the robot is building in the Star Wars-themed challenge.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

But, the robotics challenge is more than building a robot, said teacher Rebecca Dew, the team sponsor, said. “They learn teamwork and problem solving.”

The team’s engineering notebook, detailing everything they’ve done, figures into their overall score, as well as a team interview with the judges and the community outreach the team has done throughout the season. Team members, whose jobs include programmers, builders, 3-D designers, and communications, have fed the homeless at an area shelter, volunteered at Webster Animal Shelter Sunnybrook Estates retirement home and In His Steps Ministry, and led a schoolwide can drive and taken the robot out into the community to share what it can do.

“This is a great experience overall,” said junior Animesh Kumar, a three-year veteran of the team.

Guided by adult coaches and mentors, the students work as a team to develop science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills and practice engineering principles. The MRA team, known as Reload F5, uses the same robotic base each year but designs, builds and codes it to meet a new challenge for the annual competition. Team members raise the funds they need and also market their team brand.



“There’s a wide range of skill sets involved,” said team president Conner Ivy, a junior who’s been on the team each year, “and this team is so wide in our skill sets.  We are always improving, always tweaking.”

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), the national non-profit that sponsors the robotic competition, was founded to inspire students to become science and technology leaders and innovators. A focus of the program is “gracious professionalism. Only positive comments and interactions are allowed,” Ivy said. 

“What I see as the coach are the life skills they are learning,” Dew said. “These are skills that can transfer into work and college.”

Dew said the goal is for the younger students on the team to learn from the veteran students each year so they eventually take on their jobs. 

Alden Bailey is one of the eighth-graders on the team. He said he joined this year because he has always loved robotics. “I like to build, and I really wanted to join this team.”

To follow the team at the state competition on social media, the link is #FTC13139 on Instagram and FTC_13139 on Facebook.