By Melinda Munson
In a town focused on basketball, there wasn’t much fanfare when the high school robotics club, the Prickles, headed to Anchorage to participate in State.
But according to Coach Mindy Miller, there was plenty of excitement in the arena as Skagway’s eight-member team competed in the First Tech Challenge (FTC), Feb. 25-26.
“It was gut wrenching. The robot kept breaking down but they pulled through,” she said. The Prickles ended up earning Second Place Finalist and the Connect Award, for technical and non-technical outreach.
He described the experience as a “whole lot of classes wrapped into one.”
The Millers started the high school team in 2019. Previously, they coached the junior high club. When their kids aged out, there was no high school equivalent, so the Millers established a secondary team.
“It’s an alternative to basketball. I didn’t like basketball that much,” said their son, ninth grader Calvin.
Calvin takes after his mom, who participated in Skagway basketball, but said she didn’t really enjoy it.
“This would have taught me way more life skills,” Mindy said.
Robotics is all about learning, and sometimes the elder Millers don’t have all the answers.
At a Prickles open house, eighth grader Lina Hischer demonstrated a 3D printer which the team used to create plastic pieces to supplement their metal robot. This is the first year the team has utilized such technology. They watched YouTube tutorials and contacted another team in the Lower 48 to understand the techniques.
The printer is on loan from the Skagway Development Corp. Hischer has her eye on a model that costs around $350 that could “print anything for a robot.”
Since the club gets no funding from the school, earning money is a large part of the team’s duties. Duffs, Klondike Doughboy and White Pass have helped sponsor the Prickles.
Adalia Deach estimates the club spends half their time fundraising.
“It makes it a lot harder to get the funding to do what other teams do,” she said. According to Adalia, most teams are at least partially funded by their school.
“We’d like to have more involvement with the school,” she said.
In Juneau, club members receive half a science credit every season. Skagway School currently offers half an elective credit, one time only.
The robotics team members are engaged, thoughtful and, well – teenagers.
“How cool is it to drive a robot around? It’s every kid’s dream,” said Charles Deach, sophomore.
Visit the team’s website at https://theprickles.wixsite.com/prickles and https://www.firstinspires.org to learn more about non-profit robotics programs.