Tribute to Mr. Dan Spak

Tribute to Mr. Dan Spak
Posted on 04/13/2020
Dan Spak started the Firestone Robotics Club in 2011 when a small group of students asked for an opportunity to stay after school to further explore concepts they were learning in class. The group chose to focus on robotics. The first year they built a robot that was powered by pulling a string. 

During the 2012/2013 school year his students started competing with VEX Robotics, an international educational robotics organization. That year, his club consisted of one team that never advanced beyond the preliminary rounds. The following year, Dan's team started winning and advanced for the first time to the World Competition. 

Since then, Firestone has been a driving force of the VEX Robotics community thanks to Dan. He always put his students first and his kids consistently rank among the best of the best in both ability and sportsmanship. The success the students achieved was guided by their coach, but never manufactured by him. Dan never designed a robot, built a robot, or programmed a robot. "I know nothing," he would say, "the kids are the experts." To our knowledge, Dan ran the only large-scale robotics program in the country that allowed students to select their own teammates. Just another example of the trust and respect Dan had for the students in his program. His excellence as a coach earned him the VEX Ohio Coach of the Year Award in 2019. 

Only to top 3% of teams across the globe advance to the World Competition and Dan and his students have been able to experience competing at VEX Worlds multiple times. They first competed in 2014 and returned to compete in 2016, 2018, 2019, and qualifying again in 2020. In all, he coached 8 teams that qualified for the World Championship, two of which won international awards: the Judges Award in 2016 and the Design Award in 2019.

Dan viewed the robotics club as an extension of his classroom, a laboratory where students engaged in "engineering cleverly designed as fun." Under his guidance the club grew over the years from five students to more than forty students. Collectively, his teams have won more than 90 regional, state, national, and international awards. In his final season, Dan's teams took home coveted awards at multi-state competitions held at Kalahari in Sandusky, Ohio and The National Air and Space Museum in Sterling, Virginia. 

He was a driving force for the VEX Robotics family and what it can do for the future workforce of this country. He was greatly admired and emulated by his peers, having built a program that exemplifies the VEX Robotics mission: shaping the learners of today into the problem solvers of tomorrow. Firestone's robotics teams, past and present, are respected, not only in Ohio, but throughout the country and the credit for this goes to Dan Spak. His death is a major loss for the Ohio educational community on multiple levels. He will be missed but his legacy will continue through all of us who were fortunate to call him teacher, mentor and friend. 
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