The Denison High School Robotics Team is headed to the state competition for the eighth year in a row. The theme for this year’s competition is firefighting and this year the Denison squad will have twice as many people competing.

Last year’s team of 22 students achieved seventh place at the state competition. The theme for the previous competition was agriculture. The program has doubled over the last year and the new robotics team is comprised of 44 students.

Robotics President and DHS sophomore Hannah Jansen explained her love of robotics sprang from her first drafting class. She said she took on a leadership role as she discovered a love for teamwork.

“I’m very excited for this year’s competition,” Jansen said. “It’s an almost brand new team. I believe that we are keeping the tradition that we have going on. We don’t have very many veteran members but the ones we have, have taken up the challenge of leading people. We’re still managing how to work everything because we have twice as many people this year.”

The teams were given the theme in September and were required to complete their robots by the first competition in October. This gives teams four to five weeks to design, build and test the robots.

The team has constructed a simulated three story building with stacked cups balanced on each floor. The robot is then programmed and controlled by students to use 40 table tennis balls to knock over the cups. The cups are representative of flames and the robot’s ball shooting mechanism is representative of the water sprayed to put out the fire. The robot is also skilled in moving obstructions and dragging a mannequin out of harm’s way.

The competition restricts the building materials and dimensions of the robot in order to assure no advantage is given to any one team. Students are not allowed to touch anything during the competition, only the robot is allowed to navigate the scene.

Denison robotics instructor Spencer Barnett explained there are other aspects of the competition outside of the construction and programming of the robot.

“That is what everybody likes to watch but we also have to have a notebook where kids document and do their math to prove they are building it themselves through trial and error,” Barnett said. “We have a notebook team that handles that. Then we have a marketing team. The whole package of this competition is business related. You have to be able to sell your product to somebody. They simulate a business.”

Barnett’s fellow robotics instructor Aaron Pridemore said introductory engineering courses help funnel kids into the program.

“Their ninth grade year they take my engineering course and they learn hand drafting, autoCAD and we touch on some 3-D modeling,” Pridemore said. “This year, one of our students picked up a 3-D modeling program by himself. He drew our entire robot in 3-D, which is part of the presentation. It really impressed the judges.”

The student responsible for the robot’s 3-D rendering was junior Mitchell Kisel. Kisel has been in the robotics program for two years and hopes to continue engineering in college at Texas A&M University.

“This year, we figured out how to put together the robot more efficiently,” Kisel said. “That is where the 3-D stuff came into play. I would go in and draw the various parts and cut that out with one of our machines.”

Barnett credits the combination of engineering and manufacturing students with technology students for the success of the team.

“We want kids to work with their hands,” Barnett said. “We’ve got two programs. Mr. Pridemore has shop kids which is engineering, drafting, drawing, welding and cutting wood. And then I do IT. So I do the programming and some of the wiring. And so we have very different kids. We blend them together and make them get along and the ideas they come up with and the synergy going forward is incredible. That’s our secret recipe.”

Barnett went on to explain local companies like UniFirst in Denison donated polos for all 44 team members and the instructors.

“We’re just really proud of the kids,” Barnett said. “And I’m proud to say our community backs us really well. We’re still growing so we have some financial struggles because there’s some growing pains. We need to fundraise money and do stuff like that. But for the most part, our community is so good and our school district is incredible. We see a real need for STEM.”

To keep up with the robotic’s team progress and read contributions from the students visit