Principal Kirk Roskam, left, and Coach Herbert Valdez flank the members of Team Kracken. Students are, from left, Omar Salas, Leonardo Fransisco, Mathew Marz, Daniel Solorzano and Sean Venadas.
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Principal Kirk Roskam, left, and Coach Herbert Valdez flank the members of Team Kracken. Students are, from left, Omar Salas, Leonardo Francisco, Mathew Marz, Daniel Solorzano and Sean Venadas.

By Kirk Roskam
Irving Middle School Principal

Outperforming 30 other teams, robotics students from Irving Middle School won both first and second place in the California High Desert Middle School League Championships, qualifying them to compete in the California State Vex Robotics Championships.  Two other Irving teams took seventh and eighth place. The math, music and engineering magnet was also recognized by the Vex Corp. for excellence in robotics, a prestigious distinction awarded to only a handful of schools across the nation.

In these gear-whirling, metal-clanking, basketball-like competitions, students design, build, program, and drive their mechanical convections for engineering honors. The robots must be able to function in both semi-autonomous and full autonomous modes. Each student is required to be a crack robotics engineer and mechanic, as well as a nimble driver.

Irving’s first-place team, called the “Kracken,” is made up of students Leonardo Francisco, Mathew Marz, Omar Salas, Daniel Solorzano and Sean Venadas. On Irving’s second place finishing team, named the “DSR-50,” members are Juan Buenostro, Oscar Cendejas, Anondra Chavez, Vanessa Dator, Gustavo Romero and Krystel Valencia.

DSR-50 took second place with, from left, Alondra Chavez, Oscar Cendejas, Kristel Valencia, Gustavo, Vanessa Dator, Coach Herbert Valdez and Juan Buenostro.
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DSR-50 took second place with, from left, Alondra Chavez, Oscar Cendejas, Kristel Valencia, Gustavo Romero, Vanessa Dator, Coach Herbert Valdez and Juan Buenostro.

The seventh-place team, coined the “Dominator,” includes Adrian Bailon, Sarah Fernandez, Brian Ferydouni, Brandon Gutierrez, Johnny Mendoza and Anthony Sanchez. On Irving’s eighth-place team, known as the “Skyhook,” are Giaselle Diaz, Leticia Nava, Richard Reisner, Jorge Robles, Natalie Sanchez and Veanney Vargas.

Kracken robot driver Leonardo Francisco gave this account of his job during the competition, “I have to put the machine in the right position, so that the shooter can get the fly wheels moving, and take the shot.”  He was excited and happy, he said, when he realized this team was going to win, but is still nervous about the state championships coming in March.

Kracken founder, Sean Venadas, who is the machine’s designer and chief builder described his challenges in creating the Kracken, “It was really tough and dedication was required.  We had to make huge improvements, such as switching the metal to aluminum, required us to take apart the entire robot.”

The Vex competition requires students to be engineers and mechanics, as well as nimble drivers.
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The Vex competition requires students to be engineers and mechanics, as well as nimble drivers.

DSR-50 driver, Oscar Cendejas, explained the difficulties in positioning the machine, “You need to aim the robot from the far side of the court and you need to have good communication with the shooter and the pre-loader.”

DSR-50 programmer and shooter, Krystel Valencia, described her role, “Shooting is pressing buttons, but you need to know the powers, to get the right shooting power, and you need to time the intake.”

DSR-50 team manager, Vanessa Dator, spoke about the hard work involved, “It takes two to three weeks to change something major on a robot.  We work every nutrition, lunch, afterschool, and fourth period, twenty hours a week sometimes between competitions.”

Members of the Kracken and DSR-50 teams work on their robots at the Vex competition.
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Members of the Kracken and DSR-50 teams work on their robots at the Vex competition.

Kracken team member Mathew Marz wasn’t nervous about the upcoming state championship and was confident that the Kracken would win, and just wanted to share how his team members choose the name, “We became the Kracken because we always cracked and destroyed our motors with our awesomeness.”

Robotics teacher and coach Herbert Valdez, who is certified through Project Lead The Way for both robotics and engineering, described how he had motivated his team, “I always tell the students that if they work hard and do what a champion does, they will be champions.”

These competitions are a really a big deal and this was no small feat.  Putting a winning machine together with a crack team is an extremely challenging engineering task. Our kids, who knew nothing about engineering and robotics just 18 months ago, took first, second, seventh, and eighth place, outperforming many teams who have won state championships in the past. It’s an extraordinary testament to Mr. Valdez’s excellent skills as an educator, the commitment of these parents, and the tremendous hard work these kids put in.