Educator steps up to the plate to coach robotics as well as softball at Wilson

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David Thompson is Wilson's new softball head coach. (Brian Kapur/The Current/October 2017)

David Thompson works at Wilson High School, but he does more than teach. Along with being an instructional educator for high school teachers in the D.C. area, Thompson also coaches both softball and robotics at Wilson.

Thompson — himself a 1988 graduate of the Tenleytown school — laughs when recalling the exact moment he knew this was the career path for him.

“I remember, in second grade, saying, ‘I want to be a teacher,’” Thompson said. “I got a job as a second-grade math teacher for Marie Reed Elementary School.”

After bouncing around from numerous math teaching jobs, Thompson got involved with computer science courses at Wilson High. “That’s where I became interested in career programs and tech education,” Thompson said.

From there the robotics team was born. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), the group in charge of the FIRST Robotics Competition based in New Hampshire, visited Thompson’s high school to present its programs.

“After that our dean just kind of said, ‘Hey, David, we want you to do this here,’ so we got funding from the central office and did it,” said Thompson, who has been involved with the team since its conception in 2005 and became its coach in 2010.

Robotics isn’t to be taken lightly. It is a highly competitive sport that requires intense planning, focus and knowledge building. “Robotics in particular gives you practical hands-on experience and exposes you to the STEM fields,” said Thompson’s wife, Amy Thompson, a family ministry director.

David Thompson said any Wilson student can join the team, but it is definitely a “survival of the fittest” atmosphere.

“You have to be super engaged,” Thompson said. “As the coaches, we sign them up for competitions and provide the kids with equipment, but we let them do the research on their own.”

“Tiger Pride” as the Wilson team calls themselves, were regional champions in 2012 and have continued to perform well in competitions since. They have also greatly expanded the size of the team. The success of the team often depends on how well older students induct and train the younger students. Each student is assigned to a team within the team: programming, fundraising, videos, et cetera. Jan. 1 kicks off the competition season.

“Sometimes it can be $5,000 just to enter a competition,” Thompson said. “Then the parts we need might cost another $5,000. We usually need about a $20,000 budget.”

Google, NASA and NASCAR are only a few of the school’s sponsors. A small portion of the funds also comes from a fundraiser held by the team itself each year, making tree ornaments to sell in the winter.

Thompson said dividing his time among three different jobs isn’t as difficult as it sounds. His day begins at 7:30 a.m. with instructional meetings to help teachers become better educators. Around 3 or 4 p.m. he goes home to prepare for robotics meetings at 6 p.m. He has softball from 7 to 9 p.m.

Amy Thompson said that although she wasn’t always delighted with her husband’s heavy workload, his involvement in both robotics and sports has made her appreciate the value of his many jobs.

“In a place like Wilson there are so many opportunities available —  sports, robotics, choral — all help them make better sense of what to do in life,” she said. “And I appreciate a school that sees value in that, and I appreciate that my husband sees value in that.”

Angela Benjamin, who leads the robotics team with Thompson, called Thompson an integral part of the team.

“He brings his time and his desire to have the kids represent themselves well at all times,” said Benjamin, coordinator of Wilson’s SciMaTech Academy. “I couldn’t have done it without him.”

This article, prepared for The Current Newspapers by the new local news website The DC Line, also appears at thedcline.org.