The ThunderChickens, one of Utica Community School’s FIRST Robotics teams, set records and captured the attention of FRC teams across the world with their extraordinary 2016 season, by winning the Newton Division at the World Championships. Beginning with January 2016 FRC Kickoff, when the 2016 game Stronghold was released, and ending with May’s World Championship in St. Louis, the 46 high school students of the ThunderChickens soared to new heights of engineering and innovation.
2016’s game, Stronghold, is a medieval-themed competition where the objective is for robots driven by human players to shoot “boulders” (small foam balls) at the opponent alliance’s tower to weaken its defenses and scale its tower. Each alliance also has numerous defenses that can stop a team from advancing to the opponent’s side. Some examples of defensive obstacles include ramparts, a rock wall, and a drawbridge. The game involves strategic planning not only on the field, but also in robot design and construction in order to maximize points.
As per official FRC rules, all teams have 6 weeks to construct, from scratch, a Stronghold robot. During this time, students had the unique opportunity to work alongside professional engineers to design and build a potential award-winning robot. In addition to learning different technical skills, students developed teamwork and leadership skills, since the ThunderChickens is largely student-run and led.
The ThunderChickens’ first competition was in Cleveland, Ohio, where the Buckeye Regional was being held. From Wednesday, March 16, to Saturday, March 19, the Chickens competed against 57 other FRC teams, finishing the qualification rounds with 6 wins, 2 losses and 1 tie, which placed the team in 6th place. The team advanced to the Quarterfinal elimination matches, but did not manage to triumph over the competing alliance.
The team’s following competitions were District tournaments, which are smaller than Regionals and involve local Michigan teams. From March 24 to March 26, the team competed at Marysville High School in Marysville, Michigan. The team’s second District tournament was at Troy High School from March 31 to April 2.
At the Marysville District, the ThunderChickens were ranked 5th out of 40 teams with a record of 9 wins and 3 losses. During the Selection process, the team was chosen to be on the first-seeded team’s alliance. The Chickens advanced all the way to the Final elimination matches, but unfortunately lost by 3 points to the opposing alliance. Not only did the Chickens walk away with finalist medals, the team also won the Innovation in Control award, sponsored by Rockwell Automation, which is presented to the team that has a unique control system.
In Troy, the Chickens also qualified for the elimination matches as the third-seed alliance captain. The team advanced to the quarterfinal matches but could not out-score the sixth-seed alliance. The Chickens, however, received the Excellence in Engineering Award, sponsored by Delphi, and after Troy’s District event, the team qualified to attend the Michigan State Championship.
The Chickens left their mark on the Michigan State Championship’s history from April 14 to April 16 at the DeltaPlex arena in Grand Rapids. Though the Chickens had a rough start at the beginning of the championship, the team quickly rebounded back over the next two days. In one of their qualification matches, the Chickens and their alliance partners scored 60 points in the autonomous period (the first 15 seconds of the match where robots operate completely based on pre-programmed code), which is the maximum number of points an alliance can score during this period.
The Chickens ended 17 qualification matches with 9 wins and 8 losses, which placed the team 41st out of 102 teams, and resulted in the team being chosen as a robot of the sixteenth-seed team. The first elimination matches against the first-seed alliance captained by the number one ranked team, and against all odds, the ThunderChickens managed to triumph over the opposing alliance to advance to the Quarterfinals. Never before in MSC history had a sixteenth-seed alliance defeated the first-seed alliance, and this upset was eagerly discussed throughout the day.
Though the Chickens did not manage to advance past the semifinals, they performed among the top 76 teams at the MSC, and as a result, the team advanced to the 2016 FRC World Championship held in St. Louis.
This was the team’s 16th World Championship since the team began in 1999. As luck would have it, the Chickens were assigned to the Newton Division, which was one of the most competitive divisions in FRC history. The division was stacked with Hall of Fames, past World Championship winners, and other powerhouse teams well-known across the globe.
The team ended 10 qualification matches as 8th place out of the 75 robots in their division. During the Selection process, the Chickens became the seventh-seed captain and chose teams from Canada and California to be part of their alliance.
In the Final matches, the Chickens were up against the first-seeded alliance; in order to become the Champions of Newton Division and advance to the Einstein field, they had to defeat the first-seed alliance. Hopes were riding high for the Final matches, and when the Chickens won the second Finals match by 44 points, the entire team was ecstatic with pride and excitement as they realized they were the champions of the most competitive World Championship division in history.
Though the ThunderChickens lost to the champion of the Hopper Division on the Einstein field, the team left St. Louis happy and proud. This was the first time in 5 years that the Chickens reached the Einstein field, and after a challenging season, the Chickens proudly wore their Division Champion medals that represented months of hard work and dedication.