Champion robotics team on a high

TV crews descended on the high school. A sign outside trumpeted the team's win. Inside, the halls buzzed with news about how some of Governor Simcoe's own defied nerves to win a world championship in front of 17,000 screaming fans.

It's an honour usually bestowed on top sports teams. But this week, the attention at the north-end high school is on a different kind of hero: the future engineers on the school's robotics team.

The Simbotics won gold Saturday in the annual Robotics Championship, one of the world's largest robotics competitions. In total, 1,500 teams from eight countries vied for the prize, competing in regional competitions to advance to Atlanta, Ga., where the Simbotics leapt over the competition this weekend. The 25 students have been on a high ever since.

"I still don't know if it's sunk in for them," said Joanne Pruniak, team "supermom" who volunteers and travels with the Simbotics.

The win is a highlight during years of success for the team, which is sponsored by General Motors. Started in 2002, the team began as 11 students and tech teacher Greg Phillips, who recalls taking them to a Texas competition and trying to keep them organized and motivated.

Now, 80 students entering Governor Simcoe in September cited robotics as their reason for choosing the school. Would-be Simbotics have to submit resumes.

"People whose kids are in Grade 6 are following us around now," Phillips said. "We have robotics groupies."

Simbotics members keep a grade average of 75 per cent and must be involved in the community.

The team takes its demonstrations to malls and schools and works year-round. The only time off is in August, said team member Melissa Doornekamp.

The team also practises several nights a week, often until midnight. Doornekamp has seen a shift from celebrating traditional athletics to celebrating science and technology.

"In the future, we're going to see a lot of people look up to science and technology people," Doornekamp, 16, said. "I've seen that at our school, too. We're known as a technology school now, too. It's something we're proud of."

Fifty-seven people, including Governor Simcoe students and parents, travelled to the competition, which ran Thursday to Saturday.

Some members, including Doornekamp, scouted other teams, compiling their stats and noting their strengths and weaknesses. The competition task was NASCAR-based: building and programming a robot that would race around a track and throw balls at targets. Governor Simcoe's robot was Simbot S.S.