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Two Gillette robotics teams tie for White Hat Award

Two of Gillette’s three teams competing in the Vex Robotics Tournament in Gillette on Saturday tied for the White Hat programming skills award as the technical skills of the region’s high schoolers were put to the test.

The three local teams were made up of students from both Thunder Basin High School, where the tournament took place, and Campbell County High School.

In the first tournament of its sort this school year for the older Vex student competitors, the action in the first two qualifying rounds had something of a non-combative BattleBots flavor. Four robots competed in each 60-second game, earning points for stacking large cubes in a corner or placing them in towers located throughout the field of play.

The Gillette team 82718A won the first qualifying round with an unbeaten record. In its final contest in that round, the robots were removing cubes placed in towers as fast as a Lead/Deadwood, South Dakota, team finished the task. While one robot was occupied with that, another plowed cubes away other team’s robot.

The tournament was broken up into driver skills, meaning they drove the robot remotely and programming skills, where the robot moves autonomously.

Competing for the 82718A squad were Josh Guernsey, Derek Reimers and Lilly Schubach. That team finished 5-0 with 50 points in the first qualifying round of 10 contests.

The championship round featured alliances made up of the five teams battling it out.

The Tournament Champion Award went to an alliance made up of two South Dakota teams, 98099A from Lead/Deadwood and 99515B from Douglas High School in Boxelder.

Team 98099B from Lead/Deadwood High School went on to win the Top Gun Award.

Competing for Gillette 82718B (placed third at 2-3-1 after the first round with 49 points) were Kaedin Baker and Koleson Geer of Thunder Basin and Devin Clyde of CCHS. Members of 82718C (second at 3-2-0 first round with 51 points) included Bowen Bell, Jacob Decker and Cole Sorenson of CCHS and Ian Halstead of Thunder Basin.

The Gillette teams are preparing for the state tournament to vie for a chance to advance to the national tournament, said Michael Schultz of Thunder Basin High School, who helps guide all thee local robotics teams. The squads meet weekly or more often at Area 59 to fine-tune and program their robots.

For one Pronghorn, visit to local elementary school also was a homecoming
The Pronghorns plan to visit the fourth grade classes of every elementary school in Gillette

The Gillette College basketball teams continued a tradition this season of players and coaches visiting Paintbrush Elementary School to play games, answer questions, throw a pigskin around a little and be positive mentors for local kids.

Tyler Neary, a Pronghorns red shirt freshman and a Paintbrush student 10 years ago, played kickball with the kids in the outdoor recess area. The students tried to impress their older playmate with their athletic skills in the snow while Neary remembered when he was the small fry in awe of the college athletes.

“I remember being in fifth or sixth grade and having the guys come in. It was always the best part of the day and I always looked forward to it,” Neary said. “It’s kind of like full circle now where I’m getting to come back and see these kids and go out to the playground where I used to run around.”

Earlier in the day Friday, Gillette College women’s team members Sydney Prather, Molly Coleman and Teila McInerney were the focus of a class of fourth graders who were sitting attentively cross-legged in front of them. The players answered many questions that the fourth graders had about college, basketball and Australia.

The students had been learning about the ongoing wildfires and crisis in Australia and Coleman, who hails from Adelaide, Australia, answered questions about her native country.

“What’s the most dangerous animal you have in Australia?” one student asked.

“We’ve got a lot of dangerous animals,” Coleman answered in an Australian accent the kids loved.

“We’ve got spiders and snakes and sharks and jellyfish and octopus, stingrays, and dingos,” she said.

At the mention of “dingos,” the young crowd erupted as the students debated themselves about what was truly the most dangerous animal in the Outback.

Then the conversation got more serious as one student asked earnestly, “Have you ever seen an Australian wildfire?”

Coleman said she had seen one from a distance when she used to live there, then told them about the large-scale wildfires happening now in Australia and how people and wildlife are in danger.

“There’s lots of animals getting hurt,” Coleman said. “Our koalas live in the eucalyptus trees and all the trees are getting burnt down so they have nowhere to live.”

Coleman and teammate Kobe King-Hawea are the two Australians on the Gillette College basketball team. Each said they know family friends who have been affected by the fires, but no immediate family have yet had to evacuate.

Other Pronghorn student-athletes played games and talked to kids in their half-hour shift at the school.

Mason Archambault, the men’s team’s sophomore point guard, and freshman teammate Joe Jones threw a football around with others who were eager to show off their elusiveness as the group of 9-year-olds tried to catch up to them.

The two put in so much effort that after one risky Archambault catch and slide through the snow, assistant coach Estevan Sandoval‘s eyes got wide and he shouted half-jokingly, “Please don’t hurt my point guard.”

Archambault said the trip to Paintbrush was his eighth visit to a Gillette elementary school.

“I just like playing with the kids and getting them to come to our games,” Archambault said about why he’s gone that many times.

Jones, a St. Louis, Missouri, native, said it’s a way to pay it forward for similar efforts older students did for him when he was younger.

“Older kids used to do the same thing to me when I was younger, so it’s just fun giving back and just helping them out, playing with them,” he said.

Gillette College coaches said they are trying to visit the fourth grade classes of every elementary school in the city. After a visit, the Pronghorns invite kids and their families to their next home games with free admission.

Many fourth graders did show up at the Pronghorn Center on Saturday to see both teams defeat Central Wyoming College.

“It is a welcome break in the day and the kids are excited to be able to talk to them about going to college and see kids who are actual college students,” fourth grade teacher Christina Handran said. “And hopefully it gets more people at their games too.”

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Flu cases jump locally, statewide

Influenza cases in Wyoming have experienced a “significant jump” in recent weeks, according to the state Health Department. Federal officials say the dominant strain of the disease is more likely to affect younger people.

Campbell County Public Health Director Jane Glaser said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering Campbell County, as well as all of Wyoming, as having widespread flu cases.

The numbers started increasing in the beginning of December and have gone up ever since. Glaser said she and her staff have seen “a number of people coming into the Public Health office with flu symptoms,” and they’re being referred to their physicians.

For the first week of 2020, most of the reported flu cases around the state involved the strain of influenza B. But health care providers reported increasing levels of activity associated with influenza A.

In response to the increased flu activity, Campbell County Health has begun restricting visitations to its maternal child unit and Legacy Living and Rehabilitation Center.

Campbell County Memorial Hospital’s maternal child unit will restrict visitors to a mother’s spouse or significant other and only two additional visitors at a time. Visiting the labor delivery unit is always limited to three.

Children younger than age 12 aren’t permitted to visit. A newborn’s siblings younger than 12 may visit if they are screened for symptoms of illness by maternal child nurses.

Campbell County Health is asking those who feel ill not to visit.

“Please do not come if you have a fever, cough, runny nose, muscle aches or fatigue,” a spokeswoman said.

At the Legacy, the CCH long-term care center, all visitors are being asked to use hand sanitizer before seeing residents. Masks and hand sanitizers are located near the main entrance.

No children ages 12 or younger can visit, except family members of residents. Those children under 12 also are required to wear a mask.

The CDC rated Wyoming’s flu activity as moderate, while a majority of the country is rated at the highest severity level.

Kim Deti, a Health Department spokeswoman, said the agency “would refrain from predicting whether we are near the peak yet or from making an overall prediction on the season.” She added that Wyoming’s dominant iteration of the flu is a B strain, “which is unusual for this stage in the season.”

The agency added that nationally, hospitalizations and percent of deaths remain low. They attribute the mix of deaths with overall low hospitalizations to the dominance of the B strain, which is “more likely to affect children and younger adults than the elderly.”

“If people have not gotten their flu vaccine, they definitely should, because that’s the best way (to prevent it),” Glaser said.

Glaser said it’s “never too late” to get the flu shot. The typical flu season runs from the end of October through April, but depending on the year, “we see cases all the way through summer.”

Those who are more susceptible to the flu, such as young children and the elderly, should stay away from large groups of people, Glaser said. There have been reported flu cases in day-care centers, she added.

To date, 32 children have died nationally from flu-related conditions and 4,800 people have died in total in the first three months of the 2019-20 flu season. The state Department of Health typically does not release figures mid-season, though exceptions — like pediatric deaths or particularly severe seasons — sometimes prompt officials to send additional warnings.

Man murdered woman, then took his own life

Two Gillette residents were found dead on Friday morning.

At about 11 a.m., the Gillette Police Department received a call from a family member of one of the victims who reported finding the bodies of 36-year-old woman Felicity Sjostrom and 46-year-old man Richard Massman in the 1100 block of Bighorn Circle.

The investigation revealed that Massman had shot Sjostrom in the head before shooting himself in the head. It was believed to have occurred sometime early Friday morning, Police Lt. Brent Wasson said.

The deaths were instantaneous, said Campbell County Coroner Paul Wallem.

The investigation is “substantially” complete and there is no indication of why the shootings took place, Wasson said.