Fairfield-Simms Robotics Team Scores Big At MSU-Bozeman FIRST Tech Challenge

Left to right on floor: Carsten Brooks, Luke Ostberg, Marshall Kunkel, Halee Hane, Andrew Hansen. Standing, left to right: Devon Lindquist, Xander Digan, Adeline Hahn, Brittney McNair, Mandy Widmer, Tyler McNair, Jack Knight III, Chuck Merja, Roger Lindquist, Tyler Bennett (former member, now coach for another team), Aaron Brubaker.

Luke Ostberg lead his team to a 9 and 1 record and the top 3 scores in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Tech Challenge state championship Friday on the MSU Bozeman campus. A sister team of 8 th graders had a good day too, finishing the day as part of the runner up alliance.

Thirty six teams from Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming qualified in either November or December events to participate in the day-long championship event.

Montana gets to forward two teams to the Houston World Championship in April and by virtue of being the captain of the winning Alliance, the team, with members from Fairfield, Simms and homeschoolers will represent Montana for the 6th time, and the 5th time in the last 6 years. They will compete against 159 other teams from the West and Southern US, plus about 10 other countries. There is a parallel championship in Detroit where the best 160 teams from the East and Midwest, plus a different 10 countries will participate. These 320 teams will come from nearly 6000 teams worldwide. There is no pressure at all on the team to do well, since 4 of the previous trips, have found the team in the championship round...where the team has won three times.

Coach Chuck Merja quietly thought this year might be a rebuilding year, since Winston Fee had graduated and moved on to MIT, but Luke had learned a lot and recruited a team that is good at all aspects of robot design and building for reliability. Merja spent most of May and half of June in the Salt Lake City burn center, and was gone when the building where he and the kids build robots was surrounded by floodwaters, not once, but twice in May and June. And when Merja returned, he met with the team to let them know he was not going to be able to be much help.

Luke organized a massive cleanup/organization effort so the team could host the Montana kickoff in early September. They pulled it off, and Merja smiles proudly when he says... “They cleaned and organized, then requested the kickoff and set up all the technology, put out 11 robots representing 7 years of competition and prototypes of the final design for several of those bots. And finally, he even recruited a senior who will be a great project manager or whatever she decides to do. Adeline Hahn has found a way to make the ReDNeKs look good... at least on paper and in interviews.

“These young people are my super heroes,” says Merja, “they are taking on challenges, working hard and smart, coming up with cool solutions, assembling them into a working system, documenting that system, reaching out to community members and businesses to talk about FIRST. They regularly communicate with kids from all over the world. They are already changing the world for the better. I’m SOOO proud of them and so lucky to let me provide a little input along the way!”