Holly Pond Robotics Team ends spectacular 1st season

Back row (left to right) are Colton Marsh, Jasmine McClure, Travis Horton and Erika Drummond; front row (left to right) are Rua Ringlen, Tay'Lora Preston-Warren and Kort Freeman. (Cheyenne Sharp)

HOLLY POND, Ala. – Students at Holly Pond Middle and Elementary Schools have a new extracurricular team on their roster this year – Robotics. The team is made up of four smaller teams, grouped together based on age and grade level; two elementary school-aged teams and two middle school-aged teams.

Planning and dreaming began in August for the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) enthusiasts, with students fervently deciding and dictating roles for each member, and learning to work together as a unit. Job assignments in each team varied from notebook manager (responsible for keeping track and documenting every minute of progress) to builders and coders and programmers (in charge of constructing and programming the software of their teams’ robots).

Each subgroup was tasked with designing, coding, programming, building and fine-tuning its own robot.

Team sponsor Payton Sandlin has had a front-row seat to the students’ enthusiasm.

“They have worked really hard this year. We have had practices three times a week after school since August,” she said of her students. “This year is the first year we have had a robotics team, so I think they have done extremely well this season. Most of them have no coding experience and no robotics experience; they did extremely well.”

Extremely well, indeed. In their first season of competition, two of Sandlin’s teams placed in the top 10 overall out of a pool of 37 school teams.

The competition judges saw what Sandlin has been privileged to see all semester; her students have great potential to become scientists, engineers and more. The U.S Department of Labor anticipates careers in the STEM fields to grow at a faster rate than other careers, with projections tracking an expected 10% increase in demand for STEM professionals in the workforce by 2031.

One of the team notebook managers, Erika Drummond, said she already has big career plans. “I would use my notebook manager experience in the business management field.”

Another student, Tay’Lora Preston-Warren, a team programmer, explained the point system in a robotics competition, saying more goes into a successful match than just a fancy machine. “There are colored blocks that you have to program and code for your robot to knock over or put in a specific spot,” she said. “There is manual and autonomous; manual is directing the robot with a controller and autonomous is the robot doing it by itself.”

One anonymous local holds so much belief and faith in Sandlin’s teams after seeing their excitement at their competition that the philanthropic stranger donated $500 to the Holly Pond Robotics Team, moving Sandlin, along with her students. “We were so blessed to have a generous donor donate $500 to our team; we were very thankful for that,” Sandlin said. “It’s going to go towards our game field and element, so we can practice here. We didn’t have that before, so we will have the chance to train in a real field.”

Team members are Terry Adams, Preston Drummond, Kaileigh Mayfield, Jerimiah Wooten, Triston Graziano, Declan Crigger, Nathan Shelnutt, Aliyah Horton, Jaxson Adams, Shooter Roberts, Will Keith, Tanner Bell, Rua Ringlen, Kort Freeman, Travis Horton, Connor Frame, Tay’Lora Preston-Warren, Erika Drummond, Jackson Hathcock, Jordan Price, Jasmine McClure and Mordecai Hughes.

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