RoHAWKtics on the move

HVA robotics team prepares for upcoming season

  • Hardin Valley Academy’s RoHAWKtics teams gather for a photo before preparing to build their robot. - Photos submitted

  • Build sub team members, seniors Amaris Spratley, left, and Ariana Torres, try to rewire an encoder using a soldering kit to loosen the wires. - Photos submitted

Hardin Valley Academy’s robotics team 3824, known locally as HVA RoHAWKtics, has its challenge/task and is working on this year’s robot in time for upcoming regional For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology robotics competitions.

“We’re in the middle of our build season, so we have lots to do,” said Cary Busby, lead mentor for the RoHAWKtics. She is one of about 10 mentors at HVA, which consist of parents, faculty and expert volunteers from the community.

“There’s a different game or task that’s revealed to us in the middle of January,” said HVA senior Leah Busby, executive captain for RoHAWKtics. “Then we have until our competitions to make a robot that can (do the task).”

This year the team will compete in the Electric City Regionals March 10-12 in Anderson Sports & Entertainment Center, Anderson, South Carolina, and Smoky Mountain Regionals March 31-April 2 in UT’s Thompson-Boling Arena. At each, it will try to qualify for the World Championships April 20-April 23 in Houston.

The task is having its robot shoot balls in goal baskets, then climb and hang on the bars on a wall.

“Depending on our performance at those two, we have the potential to qualify for the World Championship Tournament,” Leah said. “You can win the robot game or you can win the Chairman’s Award at either event.”

While the team has 50 members, about 35 came out to work at the school Saturday, Feb. 12.

“There’s some really good stuff going on today,” Cary said. “I’m really excited to see what happens.”

Business captain, Zoe Winterbotham, a senior, said Cary recruited her.

“This is my first year as captain,” Winterbotham said. “I’ve been on the team for two years. It’s been a really great experience for me. It brought me out of my comfort zone.”

HVA has had a robotics team since 2011.

“Our primary purpose is to build a robot for competition, but there are a lot of secondary purposes to this team,” Cary said. “They learn and practice technical and non-technical skills; and more importantly is their role with the community (outreach).

“Our student leadership is really strong and they’re helping their teammates,” she added, though noting her students haven’t seen teams in other regions in almost two years because of COVID.

“But considering where we were a year ago, I feel really good about the status of the team,” Cary said.

Since its inception, the team has won six competitions and two Chairman Awards.

To accomplish their goals, RoHAWKtics members have two trailers, one they take to competitions and another that serves as their workshop.

“We had to start that (workshop) project because we kept getting kicked out of our workspaces,” Leah said. 

Cary said HVA robotics team shared space in Farragut High School’s CTE building from 2017 to 2020.

“Then in May 2020, they asked us to move out,” she recalled. “We didn’t know where to go. We put all of our stuff in two trailers and parked them in the parking lot at HVA for months.

“We couldn’t find any host facilities to take us, so we worked with the administration here and came up with a solution,” Cary said about the machine shop trailer.

The students raised $15,000 through fundraisers, then opened the machine shop in February 2021. 

Cary recognized the team’s sponsors: Dow Chemical, Bechtel, Knox County Schools and Denso.

Their budget is $85,000 “so fundraising is a key,” she added. “Only a quarter of that is covered by student fees, so the rest of it we try to fund-raise to keep the fees low.”

Leah, who has been a team member since her freshman year, was inspired to join from her brother’s involvement in robotics, as well as her parents, also including build mentor Jeremy Busby.

“I love the community that it makes,” Leah said. “We all come from a lot of different backgrounds and have different interests … but we work together toward this common goal.

“It’s really nice to have that community, and one of the core values of FIRST Robotics is called ‘coopertition,’” the senior added.

“It’s a mix of cooperation and competition. Not only do you have that community within our team, you also kind of have it with the teams we’re competing against, so there’s never any hard feelings between teams.”