Kansas BEST Robotics, which got its start in 1999, was founded by Larry Fruitinger and Bob Unschied. This hub is located in the Heartland of America, Wichita, Kansas. They organize competitions for teams all around the state. Before the COVID-19 Pandemic, Kansas BEST would host about 28 to 30 teams. Since then, their numbers have dropped and they are slowly working their way to bring them back up. Given that Kansas is known to be the “Air Capital of the World,” many aviation companies such as Boeing, Cessna, Learjet, and others have called Kansas home. These companies sponsored the Kansas BEST’s events and provided many of their volunteers. Kansas BEST owes much of its success to its current sponsors, Army ROTC, Textron (Cessna & Beechcraft), Spirit Aerosystems, Evergy, AIAA, Ametek PDS, and SPEEA. Also, the College of Engineering and the Barton School of Business at Wichita State University have become critical partners in the Kansas BEST endeavor by providing venues, catering, print services, fundraising via their Foundation, and additional volunteers.
Kansas has several key volunteers, each with a special skill set. The responsibilities of hosting their competitions are divided up among several volunteers so that it is not left up to just one person running the entire event. Hub Director, Linda Manfull, has served as a volunteer for nearly 20 years, and has been director for the past few years. She worked at Boeing in information technology and later moved to Spirit Aerosystems. Some other top volunteers are Lee Ann Youse, Brian Jaax, Jeremy Marshall, Don Brushwood, John Matthew, and others who have become invaluable to running a great competition each year.
Kansas BEST helped create two highly successful games: “Just Plane Crazy” in 2008 and “Bet the Farm” in 2016. “Just Plane Crazy” was based on airplane manufacturing and “Bet the Farm” had an agricultural theme. Lee Ann and Linda both felt that “Just Plane Crazy” was their favorite, most memorable game. Lee Ann says that, “Wichita feels like they are the center of aviation, and they are. . . To have something to do with their theme here in this town, I’m sure that made them very, very excited.”
They feel that one of the greatest things to see each and every year is how it all somehow comes together. From a host perspective, the playing field, venue, judging, volunteers, kit distribution, and game day all begin with a thousand little tasks and somehow come together to work. From a team perspective, you have students and mentors who are given this monumental task, and even when things don’t work out as planned, other teams come together to offer assistance and guidance. There are times when opposing teams have to come together to make a product. “This is how it really is in the engineering world,” says Lee Ann.
Hub Spotlight submitted by:
Hutto High School (Hutto, TX) – Eddy Cruces, Isaiah Johnson, Gus Blomstrom, Brandon Gonzalez