LEBANON — Avast, ye. The Scalawags won't be a-plunderin' or a-pillagin' this year: They will instead be Lebanon's first nonprofit pirates.
Team 1359, the Lebanon FIRST Robotics team, received formal 501(c)(3) nonprofit status last month, which makes the team eligible to apply for additional grants and give tax receipts to donors.
That's particularly important with a new build season under way: The 15 or so members of the pirate-themed team are scrambling to build a robot as fast as they can to meet this year's FIRST challenge.
Teams from around the mid-valley are expected to converge Feb. 17 on Corvallis High School for a regional scrimmage. Formal competitions start the second week of March.
FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. It's an international youth organization that operates competitions in robotics, Lego robotics and other technology challenges.
Teams have six weeks from the start of the season to build a robot that will meet that year's challenge. At competitions, they form alliances of three teams each and battle other alliances for points during timed competitions.
All FIRST teams around the world received their challenge for the year on Jan. 6. This year's theme is "Power Up," a nod to classic video games, and involves collecting and placing "power cubes" for points.
"I think it's going to be a lot of fun to watch," said Kelly Cleveland, one of the advisers for the Lebanon team. "There's so many ways the alliances can work together to score points."
FIRST Robotics competitions are games, but each involves plenty of real-life work. Cleveland's 15 or so Scalawags all work on multiple teams: inventor, design, build, programming, drive, pit crew, marketing and spirit, among others.
Making the robot work involves skills in math, physics, engineering, computer coding, communication and problem-solving, Cleveland said. It involves learning to both follow the rules and think creatively. And, perhaps most important, FIRST stresses "gracious professionalism," so teams have to work with competitors as well as allies.
"It's important to the world because we are moving forward to this highly technical society," she said. "We need a generation that can solve problems, that can do hands-on engineering."
A middle school social studies teacher, Cleveland said she can see the difference in students who learn by building.
"I see how well it works," she said. "It engages them in a way that just giving them geometry problems doesn't."
On this particular Saturday, one group of Scalawags went off site to work on welding while other teammates used a chop saw to cut the pieces that will become the mechanical arms to grab the milk-crate-sized power cubes.
One team member sewed her pirate costume as a team mascot, while others ran a Computer Aided Design program to set up the robot's frame. Cleveland and another mentor conferred on possible ways to make the jawbone of the team skeleton move.
"Robot kids ought to be able to find a way to make stuff move," Cleveland insisted.
This is the 15th robot the Lebanon team has built in as many years. Last year's team took home the first tournament win in Scalawag history. Previous teams have won just about every other possible award: for design, engineering, imagery and team spirit among them.
The Scalawags are sponsored through a Venture Crew Scout troop, so both boys and girls can belong. Most of the 15 team members, who range from eighth to 12th grade, are public school students, but the team is not funded or sponsored by the Lebanon Community School District.
It takes between $8,000 and $10,000 each year to put a robot together, which is what makes nonprofit status so important, Cleveland said.
Still, she said, "Scalawags are scrappy pirates, and they make do."