Decade of dominance

St. Francis school wins ninth Skills Canada gold medal

Nicholas Mercer
Published on December 4, 2012
The St. Francis Lego robotics team show off its 9th gold medal in 10 years with the help of shutter shades. Members of the team are: Front (l-r) - Mitchell Murphy, Nick Noel, Devon Nicholson, Matthew Hoyles, Jack Lambert, Caleb Noel, Devon Groves, Mackenzie Keats, Stephen MacDonald and John Ross-Gillespie; back - coaches Rodney Dobbin and Norm Littlejohn.
Photo by Nicholas Mercer/The Compass

The Lego robotics team at St. Francis School in Harbour Grace wanted to stand out from the crowd at the Skills Canada Intermediate Canada held at Mount Pearl Intermediate on Nov. 24.

In order to do that, the group of 10 Grade 8 students decided to take a page out of music mogul Kanye West's playbook.

"Shutter glasses? Because, 'why not?'" said student Mitchell Murphy.

Donning the "shutter glasses" in the school colours - purple and gold - the group was sure to draw inquisitive looks wherever they went.

"People would walk by us in the lunchroom and we'd have our shutter glasses on and singing The Dubliners and The Masterless Men," said Mitchell. "Kanye West and Irish music. The best combination ever."

"We got some strange looks," added Jack Lambert.

The glasses must of granted the St. Francis representatives incredible luck as the team marched to its ninth victory in 10 years at the competition.

To go along with the impressive streak, the group, according to some, registered the highest score ever in the competition - 361 team points.

"Someone told us it was the highest," said Mackenzie Keats.

"We were aiming for 410," said Caleb Noel.

Members of the group could hardly contain their excitement as the announcement for overall winner grew closer.

"They announced the third place and it wasn't us. So, we were kind of psyched. Then, they announced the runner-up and it wasn't us," said Jack.

When St. Francis came blaring over the loudspeakers, the group celebrated.

"I swear a couple of us didn't even touch the bleachers, we just jumped off the stage," said Caleb.

Hard to hide pride

Coaches Randy Dobbin and Norm Littlejohn could hardly hide the pride they felt for their young charges.

"I'm so proud of you guys," said Dobbin.

Dobbin said there were doubts about the team's ability to come together ahead of the competition.

"You guys pulled it all together in the last week," he said.

Each year, the competition deals with a different theme or topic. This year's theme was to come up with solutions to help the elderly.

That meant devising ways to help them get their pills or move around the house.

"They talked to some seniors and asked them what problems they have and came up with solutions," said Littlejohn.

One of their solutions was to build a miracle bracelet.

"We were thinking about doing a bracelet anyway, and Stephen (MacDonald) was making them for all of the boys, so we kind of put two-and-two together," said Jack.

The bracelet has many abilities that lends itself to the elderly. It tells them when to take their pills, it has an alarm system that beeps and lights up, as well as a global positioning system.

"If you're family can't find you, they'll be able to track you down," said Jack.

Future implications

The students that were a part of the team know they continued a proud tradition of St. Francis Lego robotics.

"Knowing that eight teams before us had won, it put the weight on our shoulders," said Mitchell.

With that pressure hanging over them, the group had no doubt that they were going to pull through.

"We had our chance to step up, and we knocked it out of the park," said Jack.

The competition allows students to experience a world of engineering that they might not have had they not participated.

After the competition, all 10 members said they will continue on with robotics when they make the journey to Carbonear Collegiate next fall.

As for beyond high school, the entire experience influenced some of them to pursue a career in engineering.

"Before, I thought about doing engineering and now that I've done robotics, its more like a definite," said Caleb.