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Posted on Sat, Apr 13, 2013 : 4:31 p.m.

Michigan's robotics championships at EMU: 'A varsity sport for the mind'

By Lisa Carolin

Cheers, whistles, and even some team mascots created the environment of a sports event Saturday at the FIRST Robotics state championships at Eastern Michigan University's Convocation Center.

It was the third and final day of the competition, with a visit from Gov. Rick Snyder Saturday morning and finals scheduled for afternoon.

The top 64 teams in Michigan competed, including one team from Washtenaw County: the Dexter Dreadbots, known at the competition as team number 3656. It's their third year in existence and their first year at the state championship.

"We were both rookies freshman year when our team started," said Dexter High School junior Michael De Zeeuw.

"It's been exciting to see our team grow from seven to 20 members," said Dexter junior Ian Cook. "I've learned a lot about working with other people and problem solving."

"You also learn to never give up," said De Zeeuw. "We get more confident every year."

"Robotics is a varsity sport for the mind," said Jennifer Bryson, one of Dexter High School's team mentors, who says that funding for the team comes from both private donations and corporate sponsors. "It's a hands-on way of learning the real world challenges of engineering and an exciting opportunity to be involved and interacting with kids from other schools."

Gov. Snyder briefly took center stage in the stadium in between matches and told the audience, "This is the place to be in Michigan on this Saturday morning."

He thanked the students for their hard work, and included parents and mentors in his gratitude.

The remote-controlled robots are piloted by the students and go head-to-head on the floor in a small sports arena battling it out to earn points during a two-minute round. The robots attempt to score points by shooting discs into a rectangular opening above the field during the match and end it by attempting to climb up pyramids in the middle of the field.

Marjie Jenkins is the event coordinator for the state championships, and she also coaches a team from Pontiac.

"My team is competing today," said Jenkins. "We're like a family. Each kid has been able to find something they like doing on the team."

Jenkins proudly added, "Athletes have sports, kids in drama have their thing, and nerds have robotics. I don't think any of us would be offended by being called a nerd."

FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, and is active in a third of all Michigan high schools. The purpose is to show what fun engineering, technology, math and science can be for a career choice. More than $16 million in college scholarships are available for FIRST students.

The top three finishers were schools from Hopkins, Bloomfield Hills, and Armada, Michigan. For more information, go to


Julia Herbst

Tue, Apr 16, 2013 : 10:42 p.m.

Hate that you guys always leave Willow Run Team 66 out of this. Willow Run High School has one of the very best FIRST robotics team in the state. They have made it to world championships multiple times, one numerous Chairmans awards (The most prestigous award you can buy).


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 1:24 p.m.

Very nice article, This is a great program. Glad to see the governor plugging it. The biggest challenge is that giving kids hands on experience in design and engineering is expensive and a big hurdle for all except the wealthiest communities. Support the Dreadbots and our other Washtenaw County teams!


Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 12:09 p.m.

FIRST was founded by Dean Kamen, creator of the Segway. It is a great organization. Our son participated as a student, and now a mentor. It teaches students how real world engineers need to work as a team.

Elizabeth Onesti

Sun, Apr 14, 2013 : 1:58 a.m.

I'm a first year member of the Dreadbots from Dexter High School, and believe me when I say that joining the team was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Working with all of these other talented students has made me realize what it means to be an engineer, and seeing the innovation that occurs at each an every competition is a huge inspiration for me. It's actually the team's second year at the state championships, but our first year being qualified for the national championships in St. Louis, MO. We are so excited to have the opportunity but can only go if we get the funds to be able to do. If you know anybody that would be willing to sponsor the team and help us reach our dream of competing at nationals, please email Thank you!


Sat, Apr 13, 2013 : 11:44 p.m.

In 2012 one of the three teams crowned state champions was from Washtenaw County: Team 830 Rat Pack, comprised of students from Huron, Skyline, Pioneer, Community, Greenhills, Washtenaw Technical Middle College, and homeschooling.

Julia Herbst

Tue, Apr 16, 2013 : 10:40 p.m.

Willow Run Team 66 also helped take Rat Pack to Worlds in Atlanta last year!

Little Patience

Sat, Apr 13, 2013 : 11:39 p.m.

It is REALLY cool! My nephew is part of one of the teams pictured above. They have a lot of fun doing the builds & competition, and work very hard at it. It's a blast for the spectators as well. :)


Sat, Apr 13, 2013 : 11:01 p.m.

Very nerdy but very cool