Wiky High robotics squad wins berth at world championships

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS! The Wikwemikong High School Robotics team is moving into world championship contention.   Back row, left, Chris Mara, Gavin Pangowish, Darlene Mandamin-Turner, Sterling Pangowish, Aiden McCormick, Jason Mishibinijima, DJ Miaingowai, Ben Lewis, Mary Pangowish, Jayne Summers, David Jackson, Bernadette Pangowish and Ella Williams. Front row, left, Aaryn Zoccole (Eagle), Grey Neganigijig, Mikaila Dokum-Trudeau and Trinity Jacko.

Off to Detroit April 24-27, team fundraising for expenses

WIIKWEMKOONG – Fresh off of an outstanding showing at the provincial First Robotics competitions in Waterloo, the Wikwemikong High School FIRST Robotics team has scaled new heights by qualifying for the World Championships in Detroit next week.

“We are the only high school team in Northern Ontario to have ever won the Chairman’s Award,” enthused teacher/mentor/coach Chris Mara. “In addition Mary (Pangowish) qualified for the Dean’s List, one of only five students in Ontario.”

The teacher has good reason to be excited. The Chairman’s Award is the most prestigious award at the FIRST Robotics championships.

“The team worked hard and kept digging and modifying their robot,” said Mr. Mara. “The Chairman’s Award team nailed their presentation. There was not another team there with two blue banners and now we have a third district championship banner. Go Wiikwemkoong!”

Each team selects two Chairman’s Award members to present before a panel. These semi-finalists then go on to compete as finalists.

The students who earn FIRST Robotics Competition or FIRST Tech Challenge FIRST Dean’s List status as either a Semi-finalist, Finalist or winner, will not only be great examples of current student leaders who have led their FIRST Robotics Competition or FIRST Tech Challenge teams and communities to increased awareness for FIRSTand its mission while achieving personal technical expertise and accomplishment, but it is FIRST’s goal that all Dean’s List Semi-Finalists, Finalists and winners will continue on, post award, as great leaders of FIRST’s ever growing student alumni.

Team member Mary Pangowish is thumbs up and all smiles after securing the Dean’s List Award.

Since its introduction in 2010, the FIRST Dean’s List Award has attracted the attention of prestigious colleges and universities who desire to have FIRST Dean’s List students apply for admissions. As FIRST believes such interest is beneficial to our students, those students selected as Finalists and winners will be asked to provide written consent for the release and use of certain personal information, including image, to interested colleges/universities for the sole purpose of allowing those institutions to contact the students if they wish. Colleges and universities have expressed interest in FIRST Dean’s List Award winners and the competition organizers express the hope that each team will take advantage of the opportunity to nominate two of their best students as FIRST Dean’s list semi-finalists.

Mr. Mara’s excitement was matched by Ogimaa Duke Peltier.

“We are extremely proud of the accomplishments of our students and our community,” said Ogimaa Peltier. “When we initially started to support this project, we anticipated it was going to develop with all of the knowledge of our people. Our youth stand among the best in the world, can compete with every level of society. Not only can we compete with the very best teams from across our region and the province, but now they will be representing our community on the world stage.”

“The First Robotic competition is all about inspiration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” said Mr. Mara. “It is not just about building the robot, you have a wide range of aspects that go into the point system.”

When it comes to the Chairman’s Award, the bar is set high. There is a presentation before a panel of judges and responding to the judge’s questions. “There are 16 questions,” noted Mr. Mara. “Then there is also the submission of a video.”

The Wikwemikong High School robotics team were presented to the legislature by Kiiwetinoong MPP Saul Mamakwa. The MPPs praise focussed on how the team was teaching the potential that is within the reach of Indigenous people wherever they reside.

The remarkable feats of the Wikwemikong High School team are all the more impressive when it is recognized that they are coming from a small rural community that, for all its pride and storied heritage, lacks the deep pockets and resources of larger urban communities. But what they lack in financial clout the students more than make up for with resourcefulness and determination.

“The first team had to recycle parts from the landfill,” recalled Ogimaa Peltier. “Their first robot frame came from an old recycled cabinet and they build it up from there. They eventually caught the attention of people that wanted to help and now there are some sponsors that are supplying parts and financial support that assist them in being able to compete at the provincial level.”

Wikwemikiong FIRST Robotics Team members Grey Neganigijig, Mikaila Dokum-Trudeau and Trinity Jacko hold the blue championship banner from the First Robotics Destination Deep Space Provincial Championships. The team has not only secured two blue champion banners from district and provincial meets, they are the very first team from Northern Ontario to secure the prestigious Chairman’s Award. The team will now go on to compete in the World Championships in Detroit from April 24 to 27.

The Wiikwemkoong community has been busy fundraising to help make the climb up the ladder to the world championships. “There was a $13,000 contribution from our fundraising efforts that has allowed them to compete at the provincial level,” said Ogimaa Peltier. “Now it is the worlds. I have been reaching out to my network to access support for our education system and our robotics team specifically.”

Ogimaa Peltier said he wanted to express the admiration and support of the entire community for the robotics team and their efforts. “The students sign onto a commitment to work evenings and weekends,” he said. “They have six weeks to build their entry; everybody starts from the same footing.”

The excitement generated by the Robotics team has spread throughout the community and into the lower grade classrooms as well, noted Ogimaa Peltier. “The younger students look forward to coming into Grade 9 and being part of the team.”

The Wikwemikong High School robotics team will now go on to compete in the world championships in Detroit from April 24 to April 27, just a few short days away. 

Not only are the students excited, their supporters across Manitoulin and beyond are looking forward to their debut at the world championships. But unlike the regional and “provincial” competitions, spectators can’t just walk in the door and sit in the stands.

“There are not only 350 First Robotics teams, but also teams from the FTL and FLL streams, over 600 teams in all,” said Mr. Mara. “So even spectators have to register for the event.”