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12-year-old girls kicking butts, taking names in national robotics competitions

Posted at 9:19 AM, Mar 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-29 14:51:04-04

They attend each other sports events, host sleepovers, and whip the boys' butts when it comes robotics. The Pink Eagles, a five member crew of 12-year-old robotics enthusiasts, are doing things even the original organizers didn’t think would be possible a mere three years into their existence.

“To be honest, they excelled much quicker, much faster, than I even thought they would,” said Frank Tappen, the team's coach, and owner of The Mentors Robotics Shop in Hartland.

The girls almost overlook the success, on Tuesday before they won a national competition, they were more interested in making sure that the latest robot they’re being judged on is up to snuff than the award ceremony itself.

“He’s nervous!” said Amber Clark, following the robots miss of a unique task that they had to overcome for the competition.

Clark is joined on the team by Camryn Ihrke, Olivia Tappen, Sydney Furge and Jayley Felty. Some of the girls excel at programming, others at design and engineering — together they seem to be forming an impressive robotics team.

The seventh graders aren’t only succeeding at robotics, they’re succeeding beyond their years. Two of the 12-year-olds even go to the high school following their time at middle school to work with the robotics team at a high school level. The Pink Eagles, however, are not school-affiliated. They fell in love with the concepts of the STEM (Science, technology, engineering and math) field when they were 9-year-olds.

The latest competition was run by a group called the “Wonder Workshop.” The up-and-coming robotics engineers were given two robots. One had sensors and had to be programmed to “save” the other robot. The robot also had to maneuver a course and drop ping-pong balls into cups.

Unlike some robots, Gumdrop, the robot performing the tasks — had to be fully automated.

On Tuesday when the national group announced winners via a Facebook live there were hints given about who may win.

When an eagle caw came across the monitor the girls had surrounded to watch together, they started grabbing at each other and smiling ear to ear.

Eventually when the announcement was made, they erupted into cheers.

“I was kind of hoping we would win,” said Sidney Furge, “but it’s a tough completion.”

Furge told 7 Action News that she couldn’t believe that they won considering that more than 5,000 teams across the country entered this completion.

“We pushed thought so many obstacles, though,” said Furge. “I guess, deep down, I knew we could if we tried hard enough.”

The trying doesn’t stop with the latest win. The girls will each receive a robot from the company similar to the ones they used in the competition, and the team will receive 5,000 STEM dollars, money to be used toward Science, Technology, Engineering and Math purposes.

That money may come in handy, because the Pink Eagles are also taking on a few hundred teams in a national Legoland robotics competition. They placed in second statewide earlier this year.