Fighting Mongooses full of 'optimism' this year

Ryan Anderson, The Daily Citizen, Dalton, Ga.
·3 min read

Mar. 14—Though virtual competitions have replaced live ones this year due to COVID-19, members of the Northwest Georgia College & Career Academy's FIRST robotics team are thrilled to have a season, especially after the last one was canceled early on.

"It's a relief to have a season," said junior Kevin Rangel, in his third year as a member of the Fighting Mongooses. "I was slightly disappointed that we can't go to competitions, but that only lasted about 10 seconds, because I understand why."

With robotics to occupy some of his time, "I don't have to spend all my hours on school," he said with relief. "I spend a lot of time trying to get ahead academically, but this is much more fun than school, because it's hands-on, practical experience, and it's just fun to be with friends."

"I'm really glad to have a season," said Amber Adams, in her first year on the team. "Building a robot is so much work, I'm glad we'll be able to show it off."

Students "put so much hard work into this — we meet about every day and on Saturday — so it's disappointing when you don't get a chance to show off your work," as was the case last year, when the team only had one competition before the season was canceled due to COVID-19, said Brian Cooksey, one of the advisers for the Fighting Mongooses. "They invest so much into this."

"We all grieved that one a bit," said senior Jamie Pickett, in her third year on the team. But, because this year's FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition is similar to last season's, the team can base its design off of the 2020 robot, so "all that work wasn't for nothing."

"We've implemented safety protocols and cleaning procedures, (including) wearing masks, because you can't build a robot (social distanced) six feet apart," said Cooksey, who is the director of workforce development for Shaw Industries. "The students have been wearing their masks and doing everything we ask, (because) this is something they enjoy."

"It's very fun to work on the robot, and every day is different," Adams said. "It never feels repetitive or like a chore."

The "people here" are a highlight, said Pickett, in her second year on the business team for the Fighting Mongooses. "It's like a little family, and (we have) so many stories."

When she joined the team, Adams saw quickly "it's very much like a family," said the freshman. "Everyone was very welcoming."

"And I'm glad I'm meeting everyone this year, because it'll make future years easier," she said. "I definitely want to come back."

Due to the pandemic, the team's numbers are down slightly, with about 22 students this year, Cooksey said. "We had about 35 last year, and we'd probably have about that many if it was a normal year."

"We have some new students on the team, which is always exciting, and it's been a really good time so far," Cooksey added. "It's a little bit of normalcy for them."

"We still get to have fun making the robot, and we're still going to bring that team spirit, positivity and enthusiasm," Rangel said. "Optimism is one of our team's biggest core values."