Liggett spreads its robotic wings

Liggett’s Robotics team is barely five years old, but in that short time they’ve learned a lot and now, Knight Vision is using its experience to help others get started.

A few of the 21 or so students on the Upper School Robotics team have helped mentor a brand new Middle School team of about 10 students. The Middle School team — who named itself Too Liggett to Quit — did so well in its first competition they will participate in the state competition in Marshall this weekend. It is led by Upper School science teacher Kim Galea and Middle School math teacher Eunice John.

The Middle School task was to build a robot that fits into an 18-inch cube that could manipulate blocks by pushing or picking them up. Extra points could be had if the robot could turn a handle that raised a flag and could hang from a bar. The team won the Think Award, given to the group with the best engineering notebook and third place in the Inspire Award, given to the team that is the best example of what a First Tech team should be.

Galea said creating a Middle School team will make the Upper School stronger in years to come. In addition, the Upper School team is hoping to receive a Chairman’s Award this year and one of the criteria is that team members promote science, technology, engineering and math in the school and community.

To that end, Knight Vision is mentoring a rookie team from Harper Woods High School. Team members took last year’s robot to Harper Woods High and talked to students interested in the program. They also talked the fledgling Robotics team through organizational ideas and different ways to approach the various tasks that will face the teams when they hear their challenge on Jan. 4. Galea also worked with the Harper Woods coach to make sure his paperwork is in order. It’s a longstanding tradition in First Robotics that teams help and mentor each other.

Liggett’s Upper School Robotics team will hear its challenge for the year on Jan. 4, during a broadcast that goes to all schools at the same time. The first competition is in February and the second is in April.

Rowing his way forward

Now that the rowing season is over, senior Dylan Goitz will be getting a bit more sleep.

Senior Dylan Goitz was part of the silver medal quad and double teams at the Head of the Hooch regatta earlier this month.

Senior Dylan Goitz was part of the silver medal quad and double teams at the Head of the Hooch regatta earlier this month.

That’s because he won’t have to get up to be at the Detroit Boat Club on Belle Isle at 5 a.m. Monday through Friday. He practices Saturdays, too, but that begins at the late hour of 7 a.m.

“Now that it’s cold, we can’t practice on the water,” Dylan said. “Plus, if we hit ice we could damage the boat.” They’ll still practice in the afternoons, running, lifting weights and on the rowing machines.

Dylan got interested in rowing by chance two years ago. He was wearing a shirt that said Harvard Crew on it and someone asked him if he was a rower. He wasn’t, but the person talked him into trying it and Dylan found something he loves.

He must love it to get to those 5 a.m. practices.

“I think it’s being part of a team that pushes you,” he said. “You have to have a real commitment from all the rowers and the cockswain. If one doesn’t show up, you can’t practice.”

The other people on his team come from across metro Detroit and that’s a plus for Dylan, who says he never really knew much of the area outside the Pointes and his hometown of St. Clair Shores.

Goitz, in front, says he is inspired being part of a crew team.

Goitz, in front, says he is inspired being part of a crew team.

He’s getting to see the world now, though, as he gets more into rowing. His tournaments take him to Ohio, Tennessee, Oklahoma and he competes in many places against rowers from around the world.

“The Coolest thing about rowing is that people connect with other people who have the same goals as you on your team, across the country and the world,” he said. “You have the opportunity to make friends — or enemies — from around the world.” He also relishes the opportunity to represent the United States as a youth rower in the development camps that provide training for young crew teams.

At his most recent tournament, Head of the Hooch in Chattanooga, Tenn., Dylan raced in a 5,000-meter races in quad (a four-man boat), double and single. Head of the Hooch is the second largest regatta in the country and athletes came from 30 states and four countries to participate in the two-day event and in the end Dylan’s team came home with silver medals in the quad and double races. In the single, he earned seventh place out of 68 oarsmen.

Dylan hopes to row himself into a college scholarship and has his sites set on the U.S. Naval Academy, Notre Dame, Cornell University and Harvard; he wants to study engineering.

For now, though, he’ll enjoy the extra sleep in the mornings.

By Ron Bernas

A little taste of France

cuisinerYou may wonder what our clubs do for activities. Here’s what one group of students and their advisor did on a recent evening for fun that was educational, and tasty, too.

Eighteen members of the Cercle Français, aka the French Club, gathered on a recent Friday evening at Madame Kriste Karolak’s house for a cooking demonstration, dinner and a movie.

croque monsieur 2The students learned how to make Croque Monsieur sandwiches — grilled ham and cheese, a classic staple of any French café. The students first learned how to make a béchamel sauce, one of the basic sauces in the French cuisine. They then assembled their own sandwiches, grilled them, and topped them off with béchamel sauce and more cheese. After broiling them, the students enjoyed these great grilled sandwiches with salade verte, green salad.

croque monsieurWhen the cooking and dinner ended, everyone watched the French movie “Heartbreaker,” starring French singer and actress Vanessa Paradis.  Everyone appreciated the good food and company, but is ready for the next lesson — chocolate soufflés!

The group’s  next event will be a movie at the Grosse Pointe Woods library, hosted by the Alliance Française of Grosse Pointe followed by a holiday party in December with a traditional Bûche de Noël.

By Madame Karolak

A little something for your Spring Break reading list

If catching up on your reading is something you have planned for Spring Break, here’s something special to add to your list: Douglas Trevor’s book of short stories, “A Thin Tear in the Fabric of Space.” It’s an award-winning book written by a current University of Michigan English professor who will be at Liggett on April 11 to read from and discuss the book during the Book of the Semester discussion.

Trevor is taking care of the final details of the launch of his new book, a novel called “Girls I Know.” There are readings scheduled and a launch party and he just recently saw the finished cover art. His publisher, SixOneSeven Books, is still working on the back cover, which will include some nice compliments from other authors.

“Girls” is Trevor’s first novel and he found working on it much different from working on short stories. “The work on a novel is very engrossing but with a novel you can write hundreds of pages that never get used or follow a dead end for months,” he said. “I thought with the novel that I wouldn’t be worrying over every paragraph the way you have to with short stories, but I still did.”

When writing short stories, Trevor says, “You get accustomed to hearing a clock ticking in your head. You’re constantly thinking about length. I’ve gone back to writing short stories, but after writing the novel I find they’ve stretched; they’re much longer.”

Trevor said he finds himself writing a lot about the interaction of people who are having trouble connecting with each other, between people who are not quite seeing the world in the same way. And he treats the subjects with an offbeat humor that makes his characters human and relatable.

Bringing in a working author like Trevor is an outreach program of Liggett. “Bringing authors in contact with students helps reinforce the idea that literary fiction writing is a purposeful endeavor that continually invites readers to examine their values,” said English Department Chair Walter Butzu.

Before Trevor’s evening event, he will spend the day in the Upper School talking with students about the craft of writing and about his work – they are all supposed to have read “Labor Day Hurricane, 1935” one of the stories in “The Thin Tear in the Fabric of Space.” In a neat bit of interdisciplinary learning, Upper School history students will read an article about the historical event against this fictional story is set and science teacher Russ Glenn will discuss the effects of hurricanes on reshaping coastlines, which is an element of the story.

Butzu says he finds bringing working authors into the classroom is an invaluable opportunity for students, especially those inclined to write.

The Book of the Semester Club meets at 7 p.m. April 11 in the Manoogian Arts Wing. It’s open to anyone, but please email Butzu if you are coming. If you want to purchase the book, click here, and visit for more information about the author.

Happy reading!

By Ron Bernas

On robot fighting and bowling

Sophomore Warren Purvin is a mild-mannered kid. He has a friendly smile and a quiet way and you’d never know he spends his free time in his garage with his dad creating robots that fight other robots in death matches.

The metal blade takes out the competing robots.

It’s part of the Robot Fighting League, a national organization that has clubs across the country, though none in Michigan, in which robots as small as one pound battle each other in an 8-foot square arena in weekend competitions. The goal is to win, of course, and robots can do that by destroying their competition; if both robots are still operating at the end of the match, the winner is decided by the officials.

How do you destroy the other guy? Well, Warren’s recent winning robot has a blade that spins parallel to the floor in front of it, which takes out its opponents. (“It spins fast,” he says. “It’ll cut your finger off.”) Prizes are usually parts they can use to build other robots.

The silver metal disc attacks opposing robots. The holes in it not only make it look cool, they are there so the robot makes weight.

“So it ends up paying for itself,” he says. “If your robot gets destroyed, you just put a new motor in and it’s good.” Though Warren fights with only smaller robots, the competitions include robots that weigh up to 320 pounds and can cost $20,000. Those robots, he said, are often sponsored by businesses, usually automotive companies. Warren says he’s one of the younger participants, but that doesn’t bother him, it’s a great way to spend time with his father. His mother goes with them to the competitions (and proudly brought this story to our attention) and his sister videos the matches for him.

This fascination started as a child when Warren watched a television show called “Battlebots.” He took a computer-aided design class that helped him and his engineer dad Glenn create their fighters.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen. It could be one hit and you’re out. But that’s never happened to us.”

Warren is also the driving force behind Liggett’s new bowling club. He’s been bowling since he was 4 and has a 180-190 average, and he recently bowled a smoking 246.

“We didn’t have a bowling club and I thought it would be fun,” he said. “You get to know different people. We had 60 people sign up that they were interested in the club and 40 show up to the meeting and about 10 at the actual bowling.”

Asked whether there’s anything in common between his robot fighting and bowling he said, “Maybe it’s just the destruction and knocking things down I like.” Warren also plays on Liggett’s soccer and basketball teams.

His next robotic competition is the big one: The Motorama in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “People come from all over for this one,” Warren said. “It’s huge.” He doesn’t know what to expect, except that he’ll have fun and that his family will be there to support him.

By Ron Bernas

Keeping a Tradition Alive

Oct. 1

Clubs are a vital part of the Liggett Upper School. That’s why they have their own day, held last week, call Club Rush, where the clubs try to attract new members at a sort of open air market during Community Time. It’s a madhouse, but all students seem to enjoy it and it’s a way for club members to introduce the purpose of their organization to others.

One of those clubs is the Women’s Awareness Club, or WAC, a 12-year-old group headed by Upper School teacher Shernaz Minwalla. “I really want students to understand that there are still women’s issues out there and they will be affected by them.” So group members meet every other month to discuss a book or article they were all asked to read, or watch a movie that meets the club’s purpose. This year there is a theme: Well-behaved women never make history. How that will play out this year is still being decided by the two students who are running the group.

One of the group’s best-loved events is the annual apple-picking excursion. It’s a way for students and their families and faculty to get together for some fun and get to know each other and the purpose of the group. Unpredictable spring weather led to a very small crop locally so the event was cancelled. But  members of the group took a page from the group’s mission statement and — like the women who made history by saying “No, I won’t stand for that” — decided they couldn’t give up the annual tradition.

“When I announced that at a meeting of the students there was a collective hush,” Minwalla said. “I put something on my Facebook page that said we cancelled the and all the alumni posted about how upset they were, too, because they had such great memories of it. So we had a couple students come forward and say if the apple orchard was having trouble this year we could at least go out and help them, take the hayride, pick a pumpkin, eat doughnuts.”

And that’s what happened this past Sunday. The beautiful fall day saw 26 students plus faculty and family boarding a bus and going out to Blake’s where, surprisingly, there were a few apples on the trees. But it was mostly about doughnuts and cider and getting to know each other. So a tradition lives on, and happily so, said Minwalla.

Just in case anyone is wondering: Yes, there are male members of the club. “There aren’t many,” said Minwalla, “but those who do become involved are really hard core. This is a great group of students.”

By Ron Bernas