Mount Vernon Robotics Team Heads to State

Mitchell Gage

Coach Keller to Retire at End of Season

Robotics coach, Dave Keller, is taking his team to state for the last time. Keller is retiring from robotics this year after being the coach since 2016. The four Mount Vernon teams will compete in Waukee March 12 with the chance to advance to the 2022 VEX Robotics World Championship held in Dallas, Texas, in May.

Keller was very helpful to the team the whole way through the process of designing, building, and testing the robots. He kept up a good work environment, and shared very good advice. Senior Kian Hageman said that one of the best pieces of advice he got from Keller was to keep designs simple and not to over complicate them.

Coach Dave Keller talks with senior Kian Hageman at the home tournament Feb. 26.

Some of Keller’s greatest accomplishments as the robotics coach were the environment he created, the space he helped the robotics team get at the high school, and how well the Mount Vernon robotics teams performed. “Mount Vernon always has a robot that’s right up there at the top,” said Keller. Just last year, Mount Vernon had a team advance to the championship round at state robotics in Council Bluffs.

Keller created an environment where everyone is respectful and where students transfer knowledge to new members. I enjoy being able to design and build something with my friends in an easy-going environment,” said Arnold. “Dave is the main reason that it is so welcoming.”

Before Keller became the robotics coach, he helped former math teacher Richard Scearce coach robotics in the attic of the Presbyterian church, and also helped start up Lego Robotics at the middle school.

Keller moved the robotics team from the attic of the Presbyterian church to its own storage room in the high school. He is thankful for the new space for practice and storage that was made available after the Performing Arts Center was built.

Keller recounted a time when a robot from Mount Vernon lost a wheel during a competition, but was still able to push another robot out of the way, complete its task, and win the match in the last 20 seconds. “That was kind of exciting,” he said. It’s one of many memories he´ll take with him.

Keller’s advice for the next coach is that they should run their thoughts against the students and let them assist in the decision process. He says that the students surprise him quite a bit.

Senior Mark Liberko was thankful that Keller took so much time out of his week and even on weekends to just come in and let the robotics members get work done. Practices start at the beginning of the school year and go through state competition in March. The practices go from about 6 to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and sometimes on weekends.

Thanks to Keller, the robotics team hosted their second ever home competition Feb. 26 with teams from across Iowa and Nebraska. Mount Vernon made up four of those teams, with two that advanced as far as the semifinal rounds.

In this competition, the robots have to pick up plastic baseball-sized rings and put them onto a branched goal. Then, teams must move the goals to their side of the field and balance them onto a teeter-totter like ramp. Mount Vernon Robotics students have been focusing on putting the goals on top of the ramp instead of putting rings on the goals as a strategy to win. The students need to program the robots themselves to perform tasks autonomously before they drive them with remote controls that they also programmed for the competition.

Keller said the program has been a lot of fun, and he will definitely be attending next year’s tournaments to see what future students create.

“Robotics without Dave will be like cereal without milk,” Vance Arnold said, “still enjoyable, but missing the key component that makes it special.”


MOUNT VERNON ROBOTICS. Front Row: Mitchell Gage, Tommy Ferguson, Dashiell Yamanishi, Mark Liberko, Sarah Petersen. Back Row: Coach Dave Keller, Porter Chatman, Kian Hageman, Steven Wolfe, Vance Arnold, and Marin Denes