DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

New robotics team will put it all together

The room at the far southeast corner of the XCP campus now is used for storage, but before long, it will be transformed into a world where robots rule.
It will be the home of the Xavier robotics team, as well as the place where robotics classes will be held.
In the past, Xavier had a robotics team but it was discontinued and now, after about an absence of a little more than a decade, has returned.
In recent years, the few Xavier students who wanted to participate in robotics would have to team with the boys at neighboring Brophy College Prep.
With robotics having a resurgence in popularity and the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) holding statewide competition, Xavier decided to give it a go again.
The robotics team and robotics class will be led by Xavier faculty member Nathan Ward, who  also teaches sculpture, 3D printing and a maker’s class, and is involved with building sets for the school’s theatre productions.
The team also will have an official logo that will be on t-shirts and other items. The logo was designed by 2015 graduate CeCe Ramey.
The logo is in a circular gear-like shape with the Gator head and tail.

The new Gator robotics logo will be a source of pride for team members.
 “It appears that we will have a good amount of interest,’’ said Ward. “The robotics class likely will be in 7th hour and then carry over to the actual robotics team, similar to what they have with some of the athletics teams. But you are not required to be in the class to be on the team, or vice versa.’’
The robotics activities have been in the planning stages for the last few months, Ward said.
“When Sr. Joan (Fitzgerald, principal) brought up the idea in March or April, we jumped at the chance,’’ said Ward, who owned a steel-fabrication business before switching to the teaching ranks.
Robotics usually is divided into two types of “bots,’’ the larger ones and smaller ones. Ward said the team likely will begin with the smaller ones, due in part to expense.
The smaller bots offer more of an opportunity to compete, to make adjustments and are more engineering-oriented. Competition is expected to be held throughout the school year, including a state “tournament’’ run by the AIA. This year’s event was held at the arena in Prescott Valley.
The students are not expected to pay for the equipment. The cost will be absorbed by the school as well as donations from the community, such as Valley Steel Supply, which is graciously donating much of the needed materials. Ward envisions patches on the t-shirts that feature the donors/sponsors, much the same as race-car drivers have on their uniforms.
The girls are more mechanically oriented than one might first realize. Ward taught his daughter to weld at the age of 6, for instance.
“They want to take ownership in what they are doing,’’ Ward said.
The “brain’’ of the small bots often is one through the Lego “Mindstorms’’ program, run on remote-control power and perform small tasks.
Ward expects to gain more knowledge this summer when he attends seminars at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
“It is one of the world leaders in robotics,’’ he said.
The XCP robotics home currently has a gravel floor and a few items are stored there. But soon, the floor will be re-done and the addition of electrical outlets and a compressed-air system.
“We hope the interest in this builds,’’ Ward said.
*Keep checking The XCP Files after the school year begins for updates on the classes and competition.

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