Kids of the Month: Sacred Heart Knockout Knights Robotics Team

By Mary Eggart

The Sacred Heart Knockout Knights Robotics Team in Morrilton is embarking on an exciting experience that is the culmination of countless hours dedicated to creative innovation and collaborative teamwork. On June 6, the group, comprised of eight sixth- and seventh-graders from Sacred Heart Catholic School in Morrilton, will be traveling to Worcester, Mass., to compete in the WPI Open Invitational Competition. Held on the Worcester Polytechnic Institute Campus, the competition will host 102 teams from around the world, and the Knockout Knights will be the only Arkansas team present.

Back row: Katy Fougerousse (from left), Abby White, Raegan Fougerousse and Gabbi Ruff. Front row: Seth Baccam (from left), Laykin Moore and Kayne Beck. Gavin Mooney is not pictured.

Together with their coaches, the Knights have earned this opportunity through a tremendous amount of industriousness and diligence and need to raise $30,000 for the trip. So far, their efforts have garnered about $14,000.

The robotics team, which was first organized at Sacred Heart School 13 years ago, participates in the FIRST LEGO League (FLL). The group meets for two hours after school each week to work on designing and building a robot made entirely out of LEGO pieces. To complete an innovation project, the robot is programmed to complete missions designed to solve a real-world problem. The project has a different theme each year that is dictated by the FLL organization. During their weekly meetings, the Knights plan how to present their project to judges.

Abby White

There are three parts to FLL competition: Robot Game, Innovative Project and Core Values. For the Robot Game, once the annual theme is announced, the Knights begin working on building and coding their robot to complete as many missions as possible during the 2.5-minute competition window. Each mission is worth a set number of points as determined by the league. The Innovative Project component of the competition is also based on the theme. The team must research a real-world problem, find a solution and make changes to improve the solution.

Lastly, for the Core Values component, the teams are judged on teamwork, fun, innovation, impact, inclusion and discovery, which is the heart of the FLL. Teamwork is vital, and everyone must be included in all aspects of competition. When competing, the team must communicate aspects of their project to judges, and they have five minutes to present their robot design and five minutes to present the project. The judges then ask the team questions about what they presented and their season in general.

In order to advance to the WPI Open Invitational Competition, robotics teams first compete in one of three qualifying competitions in Arkansas. Each year, the Knockout Knights compete in the Searcy qualifier against 20-30 teams to earn an invitation to the state championship. At the qualifier this year, the Knights received the Engineering Excellence Award and were one of only nine teams to advance to the state championship, where they competed against 32 teams. From there, the team was one of four teams to advance, and the Knights were then awarded the Invitation to a World Event.

Katy Fougerousse
Kayne Beck

In fact, the Knockout Knights have won a host of other awards over the years, including the Champions Award (first place overall), which they won twice. Other awards were for robot performance, robot design, core values, engineering excellence and presentation.

The team’s greatest challenge is funding their trip to the competition in Massachusetts. To raise $30,000, they orchestrated food and T-shirt sales, as well as a baseball and softball tournament. The group also credits generous donations from the community, which helps to offset their costs. At press time, they had raised about $14,000. 

The team’s coach is a volunteer who enjoys leading the students each week. “Our goal is to talk to as many other teams as possible, learn about what they do, experience the different cultures around us and have fun,” Theresa Fougerousse said. “This team always gives 100%, and they would love to bring back a trophy. We can’t wait to represent Arkansas, Conway County, Morrilton and the 501.”