Our team never got the chance to compete in 2020, and 2021 was a complete non-starter. This is sort of a rambling explanation of how things have progressed since COVID began and a question of where we should go from here.
My last meeting of the 2020 season took place after both our Regionals had been cancelled but we were still trying to finish the robot, thinking maybe we would go to an off-season event or two. That was in March 2020, and after the meeting I went to the grocery store and for the first time saw people pillaging the toilet paper aisle. Shortly after that, our sponsor restricted all visitors to the facility where our shop is located, effectively cancelling all future meetings until COVID was over. The team was pretty bummed out but we understood it was necessary for everyone’s safety.
We tried hosting some virtual meetings once or twice a month, but really struggled to get any meaningful topics or discussions going. There were some lofty ambitions of planning for future projects and things we would do once back together, but as time went on both students and mentors shifted their focus away from robotics and on to other things. After we decided not to register for the 2021 season, participation slowly dwindled from maybe a dozen students (almost half the team didn’t really have an interest in virtual meetings to start with) and 4-5 mentors, down to a phone call between 2 or 3 mentors with no students.
With the exception of a couple employees/mentors, visitors are still not allowed at the workshop until September at the earliest, and with the Delta variant now that may even get pushed back again. We might have a temporary meeting place in the interim with nothing but computers or a few hand tools, but I’m not sure how many people will even come back at this point.
We’ll have lost over half of the students to 2 years of graduations, not counting the ones who have just lost interest or moved on. Most of the mentors have either moved on to other personal pursuits, or have had kids and can’t commit to the same level they did before (myself included). By the time we really meet up again, our team is likely down from our usual 25-30 students and 6-8 mentors & parents, to maybe 6-8 students and 2-3 mentors.
As a community team we draw students from a multitude of different local schools which is great, however it means we don’t have an “official” presence anywhere outside our workshop, and recruiting from a school where we don’t have any current students becomes exponentially more difficult. That’s all before taking COVID into consideration and needing to limit physical interactions even further. Same story with mentors, we have employees of our primary sponsor (myself and 1 or 2 others) and typically parents/grandparents of past students that stayed on (and now many of those have moved on with no events for 2 seasons), but not much outside of that pool of candidates.
So to make a long story short, our team is in pretty rough shape at best, and struggling to survive at worst. I’m not really sure where to go from here. I don’t see the situation with COVID improving much further for a long time, and I’m not sure when I’ll even feel comfortable at a competition again. I want the team to pick back up where we left off a year and half ago, but it feels like a ghost town.