By Gretchen Wehmhoff

Skagway School’s high school robotics team, the Prickles, is headed to state in February after qualifying at last weekend’s First Technical Challenge (FTC).

Ten teams from Southeast Alaska and one team from Bethel came together in the school gym to test their robots, skills and poise in the qualifying event.

Teams are allowed to participate in only one qualifying event to qualify for the state and teams must win one of several awards or contests. At the end of the tournament a playoff of eight teams breaks to one winner. That winning team gains a spot. There are other areas for qualification and the Prickles took home one of those awards – the Inspire Award. 

Robots cannot be larger than 18 inches and during the matches they attempt to show off a series of skills. The robots pick up items and drop them in a target position, they earn points for a successful drone (paper airplane) launch and even more if they design their robot to attach itself to a bar and raise itself up into a hanging position.

Teams create table displays, and the night before the robot matches, the members present their process, challenges and community outreach to pairs of judges.

Husband and wife coaches Andy and Mindy Miller started coaching nine years ago with the younger students then, with the help of those younger students, moved on to the FTC division.

The mission includes learning gracious professionalism and the concept that helping others learn, helps you excel and learn. 

Teams are also judged on their community outreach.

Coach Andy said they tried to give back to the community through activities and to show gratitude for the support they received from the community.

“They hosted Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) camps the past few years in Skagway where they shared STEM skills and DIY projects. They also created the games for the Elks Solstice event and also helped with childcare during a Little Dippers fundraiser,” said Miller.

Participating teams came from Bethel, Hoonah, Juneau Douglas, Sitka, Skagway and Thunder Mountain.

The teams experienced genuine Skagway hospitality as the ferry  scheduled to return them to Juneau and beyond was canceled due to weather conditions. 

Robotics groups compete in all different regions of Alaska. There is also a remote region to accommodate teams that are not able to travel.

The State tournament is scheduled for Feb. 16 – 17, 2024 in Palmer at Colony High School.

(More photos available on the PDF)