Bots are booming

Alpena first Michigan school to host two robotics events in one season

News Photo by Julie Goldberg Alpena High School was notified last week that it will in the spring host two For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics district competitions, such as this one seen in April 2018.

ALPENA — Alpena High School was notified last week that it will host not just one, but two For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics district competitions this spring.

The high school will be the first school ever in Michigan to host two district competitions in the same season, teacher and robotics coach Melissa Doubek said.

After hosting a successful competition in April –the school’s first — the high school was notified a few weeks ago that it will host one competition in the spring. Because of unforseen circumstances during the final hours before the robotics district event calendar had to be released to the nation, Alpena High was asked to host a second event.

Event Director John Diamond said he received a phone call from FIRST President Gail Alpert on Thursday that FIRST was searching for a venue. Diamond asked if it was possible for Alpena to host the competition that week.

Conversations and meetings took place with Alpena Public Schools Superintendent John VanWagoner and Principal Thomas Berriman throughout Thursday and into Friday to see if the high school could accommodate hosting a second competition and, ultimately, the decision was made on Friday that the school will host the second competition.

“We were in a time crunch,” Diamond said. “It was a 24-hour process but we came to a decision pretty quickly.”

Doubek said having the opportunity to host two district events in the same season means that FIRST in Michigan has a lot of confidence with the leadership in the Alpena robotics program.

“I just thought that it showed that we came out of the gates that very first year in our first tournament and just the collaboration of all the different groups in Alpena that help us,” Doubek said. “It’s a big deal.”

Doubek said Alpena is now a growing source for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and FIRST robotics.

Hosting two competitions will give AHS students lots of opportunities to see firsthand what happens at a FIRST robotics competition.

“It’s exciting for our student body to have that opportunity,” Doubek said.

To improve from last year’s competition, teams filled out a survey about their experience in Alpena. Diamond said the biggest takeaway was that people felt like they were valued and welcomed while they were in Alpena. Diamond said they will continue that this year and keep putting the guests first when they’re visiting the high school and Alpena.

Berriman said a challenge in the spring will be the first competition starting on the last day of school before spring break. The school will have to figure out parking and having more people in the school.

“An advantage, though, is we can keep the field set up,” Beriman said. “We can keep it set up the whole week so we won’t have the issue of setup, cleanup, setup, cleanup, it’s just one setup and cleanup.”

The two competitions will take place on March 22 and 23 and March 29 and 30, with 40 teams competing in both competitions.

“It’s exciting and good for the local economy, hotels will be filled, restaurants will be filled,” Berriman said. “Once we get over the initial excitement, we kind of have to wrap our brain around how this is going to work.”

More volunteers will be needed to help with the competitions in the spring. The community will also see an impact because of how many people will be in the area for the competitions.

Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Jackie Krawczak said the chamber will help the high school with letting people stay at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center in the spring.

“That was the biggest responsibility last year and we also answered a lot of questions from people that are coming here,” she said. “They come and just want details about the community.”

By having 40 teams in the area, local businesses, restaurants, gas stations, and hotels saw an impact last year, Krawczak said. With two competitions taking place this year and 40 teams coming both weekends, all of the local companies will see an impact.

“Some people do spend time in our downtown shopping and even out on the M-32 corridor because it’s all right there by the high school,” she said. “Even though we don’t have numbers, the one thing that I noticed when I went there to help with the actual event, it was right before lunch time and people were walking in with stacks of pizza, Jimmy John’s, Mancino’s, so, looking at that alone, you can see the kind of impact it has.”

Along with the two competitions in the spring, the high school will host an offseason event Nov. 3 with 24 teams competing. The offseason event helps the high school prepare for what the actual competition will look like in the spring.

“We’re tremendously honored and obviously we’re doing something right,” Berriman said.

Julie Goldberg can be reached at or 989-358-5688.