Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

High School Robotics Teams: Making Future History

Mike Lawler is the president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley. Reach him at
Mike Lawler is the president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley. Reach him at

I usually write about our valley’s quirky and dynamic past. But I’m occasionally struck by something going on today that makes me realize we’re just as quirky and dynamic today.

A good example is the fast growing high school team sport of robotics. Every local school has one – La Cañada, Crescenta Valley and Clark Magnet.

The concept is simple: All the school teams nationwide are given matching parameters such as weight restrictions and tasks to be performed. They have six weeks to design and build the robots; at the end of which the teams pit their robots against each other in regional matches. The contests are different each year. One year it was a robotic soccer match. My favorite was last year in which the competing robots raced each other to pick up inflatable pool toys off the ground and place them high up on a vertical grid like a three dimensional game of tic-tac-toe. Each robot, about three feet tall and 120 pounds, had to have a mini-robot on-board that would detach itself and shimmy up a 25-foot pole for extra points.

My daughter happens to go to Clark Magnet High School and at their recent open house we stopped into the robotics lab to see what was up. What I saw impressed me to my core and made me realize what an incredible learning experience this is for this technologically gifted generation. It’s one thing to be savvy to the latest in electronics as most kids are, but it’s quite a leap to be able to use that knowledge to build, operate and market something that can compete with similar products.

At Clark, a magnet school specializing in science and technology, there aren’t the normal sports teams one finds at most high schools, so the robotics team is the equivalent of varsity football and the robot’s “driver” is the star quarterback. There are plenty of kids that want a piece of the glory, so the teams fill up fast. Team members design using advanced software, fabricate their own parts, program the computer controls – all that you’d expect to create a one-off technological marvel. But there are many other tasks needed to create and support a winning robot.

At the open house I mentioned that I write a weekly column and was immediately handed a professional looking press kit by Amalia Hakobyan who appeared out of nowhere like a salesman at a car dealership. Amalia is part of the “business team” in Clark’s robotics program.

Amalia at 18 has the poise of an executive and she told me she’s already been accepted to a prestigious business college but is still awaiting word from her first choice, USC.

I next met parent Kevin Hoard who has been mentoring this year’s team. Kevin admitted he knows nothing about electronics but is instead bringing his business knowledge to the team. He formed the business sub-team that Amalia works on whose main mission is funding this multi-thousand dollar effort. Kevin has helped the team with the basics of building a business plan with a budget and projected goals. He taught the kids how to write grants and they just nailed down a $2,000 grant from Google. He’s even taught the kids the value of networking, creating a group responsible for gathering info from other schools on how their fundraising goals are achieved.

It’s really exciting to watch this next generation building the skills they’ll need to take the helm of our country in the next few decades. The competition for this year’s team is next week, on March 15 through March 17 at the Long Beach Arena, and it’s free if you’d like to go down and watch. If you’d like to support the team monetarily, you can get your name or company logo placed on the side of the robot (just like NASCAR). Check out the team’s website at

I know some future local historian 50 years from now will be writing about the amazing high school robot games of the Crescenta Valley.

What a weird and wonderful history we’re making!

One Response to "Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler"

  1. James Bodnar   March 9, 2012 at 10:22 am

    As a professional engineer it’s great to see that future generations are learning about engineering, technology and robotics. I tried to visit the website listed, but the link failed. After a quick search, I believe the appropriate website address is for the Robotics Team 696 at Clark Magnet High School.

    Just goes to show you that learning can be both fun and challenging.

    — James

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