If you ever walk into a Georgia high school robotics competition and you see a group of teenagers in red bucket hats – congratulations, you’ve just met one of the best high school robotics teams in the state.
“People kind of know who we are, which is cool,” said Spencer Hopkins, a senior on Dunwoody High School’s robotics team. “Every time we go to a competition, our signature look is we have these red bucket hats and these blue T-shirts, and everyone knows who we are.”
The Dunwoody High School robotics team – known as the Wildcat 5e team – finished ninth out of 67 teams at the 2022 Peachtree District State Championships, according to the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics Competition website. Team mentor Doug McMahon said the finish is the best in the team’s history – so good, in fact, it helped land them a guest spot in a Nickelodeon movie.
“We were told a while ago … about how we were going to be in this movie,” said senior Naomi Wagner. “Which is just super cool for us.”
The movie is called “Fantasy Football” and focuses on the relationship between a daughter and her dad, who is a professional football player, according to the movie’s IMDB page. The Wildcat 5e team announced their involvement on their website earlier this year and will be involved in a scene during the movie that takes place at a robotics competition.
The news about the film opportunity came after an eventful and successful season, said McMahon, who has been working with Dunwoody High School robotics for about a decade. The team finished second at a regional event in Dalton, and made it to the semi-finals at a regional event in Carrollton. At the state championship, they made it to the quarter finals. Throughout the season, the team won multiple awards, including an Excellence in Engineering Award in Carrollton and a Creativity Award at the state level.
“These awards are given for the design of your robot, or the specific engineering that you use to create a capability in the robot,” McMahon said. “We were considered a very highly-engineered robot in every one of the competitions.”
But despite that success, the team didn’t make it to the world championship tournament.
“We just barely missed it,” McMahon said. “A couple more points here or there, we would have qualified. So the kids were pretty down beat.”
But not for long. What the team didn’t know at the time is that someone had been paying attention to them and liked what they saw. Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures had approached GeorgiaFIRST Robotics to be a part of a movie production, said GeorgiaFIRST Robotics CEO Connie Haynes. Once it was determined that the movie would include a FIRST Robotics competition, six teams were selected to participate – including the Wildcat 5e team.
“Dunwoody High School was selected for several reasons. They are a high-performing, award-winning team, with a branding platform that causes others to remember who they are,” Haynes said in an email. “WildCat 5e, with their signature red bucket hats, embody the values of FIRST Robotics in so many ways and their participation in the movie will be both memorable and authentic. We are proud to see all GeorgiaFIRST teams that were selected for the production and cannot wait to see the finished product!”
McMahon said the kids were stoked.
“After having the disappointment of not making worlds, to get invited to do this was a very exciting thing for them all,” he said.
The Dunwoody High School team’s spirit played a major role in their selection for the film. Naomi Wagner, who joined the team to help with marketing but then moved over to the mechanical side later in her career, said the team is unmatched in its energy. She said her favorite competition of the year was Dalton.
“We brought tutus; we had everybody in the stands wearing some kind of team spirit type thing,” said Wagner, who also serves as the team’s spirit lead. “We made signs for our team, and chants and things. It was so cool being there chanting with the team and having everyone come together and support each other.”
Spencer Hopkins, who joined the team in ninth grade, said he thinks the team’s connective tissue and camaraderie helped single them out.
“It was really cool that that’s strong enough and substantial enough to be picked out of a handful of teams,” he said.
Wagner said the team will be involved in a scene in the movie where there is a mock competition, using a robot that they’ve built to shoot a ball into a hoop. The challenge is similar to the 2022 season’s main game where teams had to build a robot that could shoot a ball into a hoop and climb a series of parallel bars.
“They’re going to show us on the field shooting into the hoop,” Wagner said. “They’re going to show us in the stands as well, which is really kind of my forte, because I’m the spirit leader. I’m going all out in terms of spirit.”
Wagner and Hopkins are both seniors, but Wagner said the news of the movie has made her hopeful for recruitment after she’s gone.
“This is a cool thing that everybody will probably want to get it on,” she said. “It’s a good way to bring people into the next season.”