Mecha Mules and Bubbleheads returning to SeaPerch Challenge


Diana Zimmerman

A Sea Cadet team from Longview takes their underwater robot through the mission course at a SeaPerch qualifying event on Friday at the Cathlamet Pool. Eight teams representing high schools, middle schools, and clubs from Longview, Wahkiakum, Naselle, and Renton were competing for two spots at the International SeaPerch Challenge in Maryland in May.

The Wahkiakum Mecha Mule Water Damage and Naselle Bubbleheads are returning to the International SeaPerch Challenge, an underwater robotic competition at the University of Maryland on May 13 after taking first and second place respectively at the second annual SeaPerch qualifying event held at the Cathlamet pool on Friday.

Competition was a little stiffer this year with eight teams vying for two spots to the international event. Two Wahkiakum teams were joined by three teams from Naselle, two from a Sea Cadet program in Longview, and a Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps team from Liberty High School in Renton.

Ron Wright, who organized the local qualifying event and is a mentor for the Wahkiakum team, was pleased with the competition on Friday.

"It was wet, cold and incredibly wonderful," Wright said. "I think the wet and cold made for an incredible bonding experience for the people who were there."

Wright, who did not coach this year, attributes experience to the winning teams' success.

"I think the advantage for both Naselle and Wahkiakum teams is that most of the kids leading the teams were leaders last year," he said. "They knew what to expect and how to prepare."

The robot created by the Wahkiakum Mecha Mules Water Damage team took first place in both the mission and the obstacle courses in the pool. Drivers Peter Vik and Nathan Garrett finished the timed obstacle course nearly a minute faster than their peers, at 39.4 seconds. As for the mission course, teams were given 10 minutes to complete a list of tasks. The Mules were the only team to finish to course in less than 10 minutes, actually completing all the tasks in three minutes and 15 seconds.

"I think our team has a good chance to bring back more trophies," Wright said of the coming international competition in May.

As for Friday, while the weather made an impression, so did a middle school team from Naselle after their robot started breaking apart during the mission course.

Despite encouragement to quit from all corners, Wright said, they kept going and making more points.

"It was the event of the day," Wright said. "They weren't going to quit. One of the Navy officers from the ROTC said that's the kind of kids we want."

An underwater robot designed, programmed, and driven by one of the teams at the SeaPerch qualifier completes the mission course for points and time. Photo courtesy of Jessica Vik.

The Wahkiakum Mecha Mules Water Damage team is coached by Amanda Heston and includes Wahkiakum High School students Vik, Garrett, Arwyn Haney, Alan Smith, Micah Johnson and John C. Thomas Middle School students Annelise Vik and Jamie Heston.

The Naselle Bubbleheads team is coached by Rudi Rudolph and includes Naselle school students Lewis Hoff, Alia Leibovitz, Derek Suomela, Logan Scheller, and Hunter Blain.

The Mule team will fly out Wednesday, May 10 and return on Sunday, May 14. They will tour the National Archives and the National Air and Space Museum, and possibly Fords Theatre.

They may also get to visit with Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, Representative for Washington's 3rd District. When Gluesenkamp Perez visited Wahkiakum County earlier this year, a student on the team asked if she would be up for a dunk in the pool if the Mules won the SeaPerch qualifier, as Wright had done the year before. She was heard to say yes.


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