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Stryke Force Team from Kalamazoo Soars to World Champions

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Stryke Force Team

"Hello World Champions!!"

So began an email sent from Coach Kim Bruinwood to the newly crowned World Championship FIRST Robotics Competition team #2767 Stryke Force from Kalamazoo.

This 4H team made up of high school students from 12 different area schools, had just returned from St. Louis Missouri where they had competed against 400 of the best FIRST Robotics teams from around the globe... and won.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is about building future leaders by immersing them in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) and Business experiences. It describes itself as a varsity sport for the mind. The students and mentors have 6 weeks to strategize, design and build a robot to compete for points in a game that changes every year.

During the competition, the robots compete as part of a three-team alliance. Each team plays an equal number of qualification rounds with randomly assigned alliance partners and opponents. The top eight teams are then named team captains to choose their partners for the elimination part of the competition.

In St. Louis, Stryke Force finished the 114 Qualification Rounds for their Division as the first place team. They carefully considered scouting data, gathered by students who watch the other teams' robots play to build the best alliance going into elimination rounds. They chose team #254 from California, Team #862 from Canton, MI and Team #1676 from New Jersey.

At the end of three days of heavy competition, amidst confetti and tears of joy, their Alliance stood as World Champions. Making Stryke Force, as a team that began in only 2009, the youngest team to ever "captain" a World Champion Alliance.

When I asked coach Cory Walters about the season, a smile tugs at his lips and a sparkle comes to his eyes. "This season..." he sighs contentedly, "This season fills a long time goal that I have had for over a decade."

Walters has been involved in FIRST since he was a middle school student in Holland, MI and his older brother joined a high school team. He competed throughout high school. During college, he helped to start a team at the local high school. When he moved to Kalamazoo for work in 2014, he joined Stryke Force as a mentor.

Asked what he loves about FIRST Robotics, Walters answers immediately, "The kids. For me, personally, this is huge for kids. It brings real world work to the students. They aren't just studying for a test, they have to use what they learn and they learn the value of working as a team and doing it right." Bruinwood points out that alumna of the program are, "Always surprised at how well Stryke Force has prepared them for college."

Though officially a coach of the high school team, Walters brings his enthusiasm for the program to all levels of Stryke Force Robotics teams which include two FIRST Technical Challenge Middle School teams, and one 4th-6th grade robotics team.

Coach Bruinwood's congratulatory email, went on quickly to outline the work ahead for the team such as thanking corporate sponsors and preparing for open houses. It takes tens of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours each year to run Stryke Force. Corporate Sponsors include Stryker, (their namesake), Midlink, Kalamazoo WaterJet, and CTS, among other local businesses. The world championship would not be possible without their support.

Stryke Force will hold their annual community open houses from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on May 22, 23 and 24 at Midlink Business Park. Any interested students from 4th-12th grade can come learn about the team and how to join.

Walters encourages anyone thinking about it to come to an open house to check out the teams. He emphasizes the impact that FIRST has had on his life and the lives of the students that he has mentored. "Seeing the change in the kids from when they start to when they leave is an amazing thing to watch!"

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