Allegan County News & Union Enterprise

Otsego robotics team qualifies for FIRST World Finals

By Jason Wesseldyk
Sports Editor

The Otsego High School robotics team—the Alotobots—made history on Saturday, April 16.
By virtue of their finish at the FIRST Robotics Michigan State Championship, the Alotobots were invited to participate in the FIRST World Finals in Houston, marking the first time an Otsego team has achieved that milestone.
Otsego High School/Middle School computer science teacher Michael Miller has served as the robotics coach for the past five years.
“This is a great opportunity for our kids and I couldn’t be prouder of them,” Miller said. “We’ve had some good robots in the past that have had success. But this year has been pretty special and we’re all so excited.”
The State Championship featured the top 160 of 459 participating teams throughout the state. The Alotobots were ranked 44th based on points accumulated during two previous competitions.
The state competition included teams being paired with two other teams to battle another group of three teams. Battles lasted two-and-a-half minutes: the first 15 seconds were autonomous—meaning the robot had to move based on pre-programmed instruction—with the final 2:15 driver-led. The final 30 seconds are dedicated to completing a specific task.
The top 60 finishers earned an invitation to Houston, with the Alotobots placing 54th.
“The fact that we earned out way in and didn’t get in because other teams opted not to go to the World Finals made it even more special,” Miller said. “Our kids proved they belonged with the best in the state and now we’ll get to compete with some of the best in the world.”
Otsego senior Ben Bickel joined the robotics team last year in an effort to learn more about engineering and improve his programming skills.
“It’s super cool to be part of a history-making team for Otsego,” Bickel said. “We’ve never had a team make it so far in the state competition, let alone qualify for worlds. I know that everyone involved has put in an immense amount of time, especially our mentors. It feels great to know that all our hard work is paying off.”
In addition to Bickel, the team includes Lucas Badiner, Andrew Conniff, Joel Deboer, Dagim Deboer, Sean Cornish, Chelsea Smith, Wybie Burke, Donovan Goodwin, Aiden Goodwin, Alex Imus, Tyler Johnson, Trenton Johnson, David Lebonte, Landon Yocum, Saxton Vandervest, Michael Ambs and Madi Dendel.
Mentors include Miller, Chris Deboer, Nate Hunt, Chad Schau, Anthony Johnson, Seth McPherson and Peter Conniff.
“This has really been a team effort,” Miller said. “The kids have worked extremely hard and so have the mentors. This is a huge undertaking and I couldn’t do it without all of the time the mentors volunteer to make our program as successful as it is.”
Miller also thanked sponsors such as Peleton, Tengam, the Otsego Schools Foundation, the Otsego Rotary Club and Safari Circuits.
“Building a robot is not a cheap endeavor, but it’s so worthwhile for all that the kids get out of it,” Miller said. “We’re so thankful that our sponsors have stepped up to help out. We couldn’t do it without them.”
And speaking of the cost associated with robotics, Miller estimates that the trip to Houston will cost in excess of $15,000. To that end, he and the team are trying to raise funds to help offset those expenses.
The World Finals began on Wednesday, April 20, and run through Saturday, April 23.
“I know it’s a lot of money, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our kids and our mentors,” Miller said. “And with such a quick turnaround time—two or three days—I had to make a decision pretty quickly and I decided to accept the invitation and now we’re asking for anyone who’s willing to help out and make a donation.”
To make a donation, visit or email Miller at

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