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It’s more than just a family feel for Montague robotics – it IS family

From the LeaTrea father-daughter dynamic to the Hysell siblings, the Manic Mechanics share a special connection.

MONTAGUE – “Tiny fingers” may not help Megan LeaTrea much in the pitcher’s circle for Whitehall’s varsity softball team, but they sure have benefitted Montague’s robotics squad.

It’s the nickname given LeaTrea, a Whitehall junior, who has been around Montague’s robotics team since she was in fourth grade. Her father, Matthew LeaTrea, has been the Montague robotics team’s lead mentor since 2015.

“Since she’s been with us from elementary school, there are places on the robot’s frame that are fairly inaccessible for adult hands. She became the go-to ‘tiny fingers’ whenever we needed to get a nut started in an out-of-way place or a wire connected,” Matthew LeaTrea said about his daughter. “Her small hands made it possible to access the frame and speed up the assembly.”

Megan LeaTrea has grown up with Montague robotics, quite literally. She is one of 10 members of Montague’s 2023-24 Manic Mechanics, even though her Whitehall school also has a robotics team.

She stuck with the Montague squad because of her father’s involvement. Megan LeaTrea keeps very busy while also maintaining a 4.241 GPA, but she takes pride in her robotics roles.

Photos courtesy of Montague High School

“I am a builder. I work on every part of the robot. I then am the pit manager at competitions, making sure batteries are charged and bumpers are the right color as well as having tools ready for quick fixes,” said LeaTrea, who plans to attend Air Force Academy and earn degrees in aeronautical engineering and military and strategic studies with the ultimate goal of becoming an Air Force fighter pilot.

Highlights for Megan LeaTrea include earning the rookie all-stars award, driving the robot at the girls competition as a seventh-grader, “hanging out with the Lemmon girls,” dancing to the different songs at competitions, and of course being able to make it to practices this school year.

Matthew LeaTrea said it’s been a fun experience with his daughter on the Montague robotics team. Seven years ago when she started hanging around, Montague shared robotics space with Whitehall. He pointed out that Montague and Whitehall teams were originally designed to be a mixture of White Lake students.

Megan LeaTrea is the last holdover of Whitehall students to compete with the Montague team, her dad noted.

Montague sophomore Pyro Martinez joined the middle school robotics team in 2019 and he returned in 2021 after the pandemic. He joined the high school squad in 2023 and serves as a programmer.

“I joined the robotics team because it has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” said Martinez, who is interested in a software engineering career or something similar. “My dad was a mentor for the Fruitport team and is now currently the head coach, and he used to take me and my sister to competitions and meets all the time which blossomed into my fascination with technology and robots.

“Also, feeling the energy of a competition and seeing the family that was created within not only the Fruitport team, but within every other team I saw, really pulled me in.”

Fellow Montague sophomore programmer Leo Brian Markley is grateful that the robotics team exists. It’s the one extracurricular his school offers that suits his interests.

Even though it barely covers the extent of what Markley has learned, he said robotics is the most entertaining thing he does with his time at school.

“I’ve been having fun with computers for a decade now. I believe I was smashing away on a Compaq Armada shortly before I started attending school,” he said. “I have mainly studied the ‘C’ language and it’s collection of standard libraries after moving through a few interpreted and object-oriented languages (and QBasic) over the years.

“I have also learned how to configure a home network and port-forward a web server, homebrew a Nintendo console, edit video and audio, diagnose your grandmother’s computer, fix your grandmother’s computer, write HTML5 valid websites, and many other random things. I have fun discovering community projects and writing my own utilities.”

Photos courtesy of Montague High School

A robotics “game” consists of a 3-on-3 match where three teams provide their robots to form an alliance. Robots are pre-programmed at the beginning of the match to start autonomously. The remainder of the match is driven by student drivers remotely controlling the robots. With a final end-game task in the final 30 seconds, a match typically lasts about three minutes from start to finish.

Competitions last for two days – the first day and a half consists of qualifying rounds, which are round-robin matches where the team that a squad is allied with in the first match most likely will show up as an opponent in a later match. According to LeaTrea, one learns about cooperation and competition at the same time and the general atmosphere aims to get each team to perform its best.

Qualifications are roughly 12 matches in which a team’s performance grants it ranking points. Top teams after qualifications are allowed to select alliance partners at lunch during the second day. Selection is semi-complex, according to LeaTrea, but it allows for teams to partner with other robots that complement abilities on the field.

The final play structure is a standard eight-team bracket where the first-rankd alliance plays the eighth-ranked alliance, and so on.

Awards at competitions consist of much more than field play as teams may receive recognition for design, controls, and sportsmanship, regardless of on-field scores.

“My goal for the team is first to have fun and second to learn something about design, mechanics, electrical wiring, (and) electronics,” said Matthew LeaTrea, who has been with Montague Area Public Schools for 22 years. He teaches science, chemistry, and physics at Montague High School. He was a robotics mentor in 2002-03. “My personal goal for the team is that any one (of them) can point to something on the robot with pride and say, ‘I did that. I put that on, it was my idea, this is why we decided to move this here.’”

Matthew LeaTrea is a member of the Michigan Army National Guard. He said he’ll be mobilizing at the end of the robotics season.

He credited assistant coach Dick Baerman, who has been LeaTrea’s assistant coach from the beginning and has been “amazing with his patience and ability to work with students.”

“I’m very proud of the work my team has put into making this year’s robot,” LeaTrea said. “The time and effort have been enormous and I hope that the students learning something.”

In sports or other team environments, the word “family” will come up quite a bit. In the case of Montague’s robotics squad, it carries some weight and that goes beyond the LeaTreas.

The Hysell siblings – Scott, Eli, and Alanna – make up almost a third of the Montague roster.

“I joined the team my freshman year, back when there was the pandemic,” said Scott Hysell, a senior who plans to become an aerospace engineer. “I liked robots and the work that went into making them. I also was part of the middle school’s robotics team. I don’t have a defined role. I just am the one who builds some things, or cuts stuff with a bandsaw, or sometimes uses a drill. But I was never considered a builder.”

Added junior Eli Hysell, who also wants to become an engineer: “Being part of robotics teaches you problem-solving, team work, and how math and physics apply to real life.

Freshman Alanna Hysell joined robotics because her brothers were doing it and she saw them compete. At the competition, she realized that she wanted to participate as well. To her, it looked fun to be down there on the field, driving the robot, and also being able to build it.

She is a builder for the Montague robotics team.

“It taught me to find other ways to solve problems,” she said. “Also, that if you have a solution that works doesn’t mean that there are no other ways that might work better.”

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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