Two weeks before the start of the 2007—2008 school year, Westlake High School’s principal Linda Rawlings had a full robotics class, but no teacher to replace the one who had just resigned. Mrs. Rawlings called Norman Morgan, a basketball coach and science teacher at the time, and asked him about coaching a different type of sport. Coach Morgan agreed and worked with Mrs. Rawlings to convert the course into one that included competition elements and an extra-curricular option. That’s how 35 students, became the rookie members of FIRST Robotics Competition® (FRC®) Team 2468, Team Appreciate.
The first FRC season we competed in was 2008’s Overdrive. Coach Morgan wanted the team to win the Rookie All-Star Award at their regional competition, an aspiration that didn’t match our limited experience and shop facilities. More importantly, he wanted his students to become leaders of the Austin FRC community, impacting the world beyond the classroom.
Team Appreciate rose to the challenge. Working over 30 hours a week, they finished a robot days before the deadline, even finding time to build a second practice robot. After stop-build day, the team didn’t just focus on drive practice. Team Appreciate also shared their love of STEM with children in our elementary schools at “Science Days,” a tradition we continue annually at each of our district’s six elementary schools.
Next stop was our first FRC competition, the 2008 Lone Star Regional. It was like nothing our team had ever experienced before and not what they expected—it was even better. They took in the excitement and spirit of FIRST, picking up how to talk to judges and, even as rookies, reaching out to other teams who needed help. Finishing as the 5th seed and the highest rookie seed, our team thought the day couldn’t get any better, but receiving the Lone Star Regional Rookie All-Star Award set the future of our team in motion.
Growing Our Program
Over the next few years, we continued learning the merits of the engineering process. Our skills improved and our robots got better. Our facilities grew in size and we gained more advanced shop equipment. Our team organization also improved and each year new, higher standards are set.
To create students with diverse robotics experience, we installed an FTC program to serve as the junior varsity. Today, we have six FTC teams with a total of 66 students, including one all girls team. A robotics class dedicated to FTC has also been added to our school’s three-year robotics curriculum. All FTC students are personally mentored through our Sibling Program, which matches each FTC student with an FRC student.
In 2012’s Rebound Rumble season, years of cumulative lessons from less successful seasons came together. We received three team awards, finishing as Regional Finalists at the Dallas West Regional. Our FTC teams also performed well, advancing to regional championships. We thought we’d had our “Best year ever!”…but we were wrong.
Our 2013 Ultimate Ascent season began at the Hub City Regional, where we received our first Regional Chairman’s Award. We were further honored when our coach, Norman Morgan was named a Woodie Flowers Award Finalist. We were so excited we could hardly sleep on the bus ride back to Austin. As a bonus, we also made the first sale of our 3-D-printed string potentiometer at Hub City, catching the attention of AndyMark, which would later offer the product through their website.
We weren’t finished yet though. Next, was the Alamo Regional. There, we were the competition Winner as the winning alliance captain, and we were recognized with the Engineering Excellence Award. Moreover, one of our FTC teams, FIRST Team 3781, Pi-Rho Maniacs, won both the competition and the Regional Inspire Award. At 2013 World Championships we competed well, finishing in the semifinals of the Archimedes Division.
The 2014 season was our best yet. At the Alamo Regional, we were awarded the Entrepreneurship Award. We were honored when mentor Scott McMahon was named a Woodie Flowers Award Finalist. We also did well in the robot competition, finishing as a member of the Finalist alliance. Next stop was the Hub City Regional, where we received our second consecutive Regional Chairman’s Award. Additionally, we were a tournament Winner, as the first pick of the winning alliance captain. We also received our second consecutive Entrepreneurship Award of the season. As an extra special added bonus, team member Michael Keim (Class of 2014) was named a Dean’s List Finalist. We then turned out sites on the Bayou Regional, were we were a Finalist, as first pick of the winning alliance captain. We also received our their Entrepreneurship Award of the season. It was then on to Championships and the tough competition of the Curie Division, where we were named the Engineering Inspiration Award winner.
In 2015, Team 2468 had an intense season of constant improvement. The team started out the year as an average tier team but the team’s constant iteration of the design led to being qualified for World Championships in four different ways. The robot, Orion, performed as one of the best scoring robots at the Championships event and was eliminated by the world champion alliance in the division semifinals. As a mentor said, “We continue to work hard and spread the FIRST message. We hope our winning becomes a tradition and that [the 2015 season] will also be our best year ever…again.”