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FIRST Robotics competition is postponed indefinitely

Westwood High School sophomore Tucker Havel demonstrates the Westend Gearbusters’ robot. The theme for this year’s FIRST Robotics Competition is “Infinite Recharge.” (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

By JORDAN BECK

Escanaba Daily Press

ESCANABA — A FIRST Robotics competition scheduled to take place at Escanaba Area High School this week has been postponed indefinitely in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Event coordinator and Escanaba Robomos mentor Marie Young spoke about the change of plans Wednesday. The event was scheduled to begin Friday. In the past, the event has brought a large number of people to the area.

FIRST in Michigan announced its decision to postpone all of its upcoming district events, including the Escanaba event, until further notice Wednesday. According to Young, she and event coordinators for other district events that were set to take place this week were informed of FIRST in Michigan’s decision in a conference call that morning.

“The decision to cancel it was really due to the potential threat of … COVID-19 in our state,” Young said.

On Tuesday night, Michigan officials announced that two people in the Detroit area have tested positive for coronavirus.

A total of 41 FIRST Robotics teams, including six teams from downstate, would have been at Escanaba Area High School for the Escanaba district event. Young noted mentors for the teams come from a wide range of age groups — including older adults, one of the demographics most vulnerable to coronavirus.

Other Upper Peninsula educational institutions have been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, as well. Michigan Technological University will suspend face-to-face instruction from March 16 through at least April 17.

State Sen. Ed McBroom issued a statement on Michigan Tech’s decision Wednesday.

“The ability to continue the education of so many by utilizing technology is a huge blessing and tribute to all who continue to pursue the increasingly valued degrees from Michigan Tech,” McBroom said.

Bay College is expected to make an announcement regarding its coronavirus response plan later today. President Laura Coleman said Bay will be doing “something similar” to Michigan Tech; due to Bay’s emphasis on courses with lab work, however, its exact plan will differ.

While FIRST in Michigan’s announcement stated its district events have been postponed, Young said she was unsure what the future will hold for the Robomos and FIRST Robotics teams across Michigan.

“Honestly … it would appear that this is the end of our season,” she said.

The FIRST in Michigan State Championship, which the announcement did not address, was originally scheduled for April 8-11.

FIRST Robotics teams compete in two different district events each season; after their totals from the events are added together, the highest-scoring teams go on to compete at the state level.

Young said it would currently be impractical to reschedule the Escanaba district event for a date before the state championship. The district event requires the involvement of almost 100 volunteers and field equipment that is brought to the school by FIRST.

“There’s no way you can make this up,” she said.

As of Wednesday, the 2020 FIRST Championship Events in Houston and Detroit were still set to be held as scheduled. The majority of FIRST Robotics teams in Michigan would not yet qualify to compete on this level.

“It may include other states, should they not back out,” Young said of the events.

While FIRST in Michigan is in an “unprecedented” situation, Young said she is interested in the possibility of planning smaller, local events related to robotics in the future.

“I hope we can move forward and give our kids opportunities to display what they’ve accomplished,” she said.

Additionally, she aims to hold a district event in Escanaba next year.

“Hopefully, in the future we’ll bring this back again and see it through,” Young said.

Young thanked sponsors, local businesses and volunteers, including volunteer coordinator Sara Lueneburg, for their support.

For more information, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/

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