By Tim Ashley
SYRACUSE — From the “ultimate high” in 2019 when they qualified to compete at the world level, the super mileage car team at Wawasee High School has had to deal with the reality of no official competitions in 2020 and, barring the unexpected, the same in 2021. This year’s group of 12 seniors working on the mileage cars will apparently not be able to show what they have learned for two years, aside from a friendly competition with an Elkhart County high school in May.
COVID-19 has caused “two years of disappointment,” said Allen Coblentz, engineering teacher at Wawasee who oversees the super mileage cars team. During the 2019-20 school year, the timing of the pandemic was particularly devastating as it occurred during the time the mileage cars are fine-tuned and tested for competitions.
For the 2020-21 school year, there was uncertainty and wondering if competitions would fall victim for the second year in a row to the coronavirus pandemic. Shell announced the Eco-marathon normally held in the spring each year would instead possibly be moved to the summer. That didn’t happen and now there is a possibility competitions will be held in the fall.
But, Coblentz said, there are 12 seniors on his team of 14 students and they obviously would not be able to participate.
A state competition held in Indianapolis, in which Wawasee has participated several times in the past, was cancelled in late February. “They had problems finding volunteers and many teams with cars backed out,” he said, noting there are still some schools in the state shut down with students learning from home.
Building super mileage cars is a hands-on endeavor. “You can’t build a car like these on a computer,” Coblentz said. “You can’t simulate this virtually.”
Understandably when the current school year began in August, the students on the team a year ago as juniors didn’t know what to expect. Though disappointed there are no competitions, Coblentz said the students have chosen to continue working on the mileage cars so they can at least learn something.
He said the three cars being built this year — an ethanol engine, an electric motor with a 48-volt battery and a gasoline-powered car — have been pitted against each other to see which one can perform the best. “I wanted to give them (students) some motivation to keep on working,” he noted.
And a friendly, unofficial competition with Concord High School will be held May 7 on the Concord Junior High track. Concord only started building super mileage cars within the last year or so. “We will measure the mileage and it will be like a preseason event,” Coblentz said.
Wawasee students participating in building the mileage cars are seniors William Fiedeke, Karlson Hand, Clayton Firestone, Blake Roose, Noah Beckner, Wesley Hays, Matteo Minardi, Joshua Metcalf, Connor Byrd, Alison Cole, Nathan Smith and Alex Troutman. The two juniors are Jackson Stover and Ezekiel Keim.