MISSION ACCOMPLISHED – Members of the Arthridroids shout encouragement to their teammates as their robot ‘Ready Tready’ performs ‘Senior Solutions’ missions during the Southeast tournament in Juneau. Jeff Brady

Skagway School’s Arthridroids champions of Southeast Alaska; Skagway seniors helped students’ project

By JEFF BRADY

JUNEAU – Skagway School robotics Team Arthridroids won the Champions Award for the best overall performance at the Southeast Alaska First Lego League (FLL) qualifier tournament on Dec. 8.
In addition to the winning trophy, the team also returned with the Outstanding Coach award for teacher Mary Thole and the trophy for the second highest robot mission score at the event.
The team advances to the state tournament Jan. 19 in Anchorage.
“I am so proud of the dedication and hard work by every member of the Arthridroids!” Thole said. “They were at their best this weekend and truly displayed the value of teamwork. Most importantly, they had fun and worked together throughout each judging.”
The FLL theme this year is “Senior Solutions,” and the Skagway team focused on arthritis this fall after interviewing several senior citizens in the community.
“Our senior partner, Ginny Cochran, has been an important part of our FLL season,” team members said in their community presentation Dec. 3. “We met with her at our first senior lunch. She volunteered to work with us, and she is also afflicted with osteoarthritis. Grandma Ginny brought in her X-ray scans and explained arthritis on our SmartBoard.”
From there, the team interviewed health care professionals in Skagway and Juneau. Advanced Nurse Practitioner Carol Borg of the Dahl Memorial Clinic showed the team how to identify arthritis on X-rays of patients.
Using bones as props, they showed how arthritis shows up in joints, and presented their solution. Experimenting with neoprene, they designed a suit with pockets where reusable heating pads could be inserted over joints to help relieve pain. Local sewers helped them create a demo model, and it worked for a local resident who tested it on a hike.
The team members - Danny Brady, Dawson Clem, Micah Cook, Madison Cox, C.J. Dormido, Shane Sims, and Jessica Whitehead – had their lines memorized and displayed enthusiasm for their idea, especially at the end of their presentation when they chanted:
“Bring us your neoprene clothing and we can make you a sample today! Buy new and it comes in colors red, blue, green, and black. Call now! 907-Arthri-Droids!”

DEMO MODELS – Madison Cox shows a pockets cut into a neoprene suit on Micah Cook for heat packs, and Jessica Whitehead shows a sleeve model as other team members look on during the team's community presentation on Dec. 3. Jeff Brady

Skagway residents presented them with lots of questions, which prepared them for regionals, but they said the Juneau judges were so impressed with their project that they had very few questions. They also must have done well in their core values and robot design presentations in the judging rooms, other key components of FLL.
Fifteen teams from across the region participated in the day-long event at Riverbend Elementary School. The Skagway team did great in the public robot competition, scoring 285 points in the first of three rounds, and maintaining scores in the 200s the other rounds. Each member of the team is responsible for at least one robot mission on the board, working with a partner, so they have to switch out quickly and communicate constantly. Even their most difficult mission worked.
“My eyes filled with tears and my heart with confidence that I was standing alongside a team that had a clear chance at the championship,” Thole said, crediting the leadership of the team veterans and the enthusiasm and hard work of all team members.
Team Arthridroids narrowly lost that part of the competition to the Flying Griffins, a Juneau Boy Scouts team that scored 293 points in its best round. But in a final face-off exhibition match between the two top squads just before the awards ceremony, the Skagway team won that round.
It was a precursor of good things to come. After accepting their second place trophy, the team watched as other teams won awards for different elements of the competition. By not being named, this meant they might be in the running for the top award.
Mrs. Thole was called up as the Outstanding Coach Award. She said she was appreciative of the team, parents and judges who nominated her.
“I was completely surprised and honored,” she said. “I had nominated my unofficial assistant coach, Greg Clem. He has been such an important part of the team’s success and season.”
Then the second place team was announced, the Juneau Girls Scouts team Youthful Rebellion, which had won last year, and finally, the winning team. Lead judge Lindsay Doctorman, who had worked with many of the kids at Skagway Summer Camp a couple years ago, introduced them as a team that chose robotics over playing in a basketball tournament that weekend. Before their name was announced the whole team was off the floor and screaming as they ran to get their trophy. Doctorman said the team’s “exemplary teamwork, project, and robot design and strategy stood out to all the judges.”
Thole thanked the Skagway community for donated neoprene items, participation in the team's research, and attendance at their presentations.
“A most sincere thank you to Ginny Cochran for being the team's senior partner and to the senior citizens of Skagway for sharing your stories and aches and pains with arthritis to help the team better understand what it is like to live with arthritis,” she said. “The connection they have made with you is so very special.”