BY ANDREW MOORE
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
High school students from Texas, Missouri, Florida, and Mexico arrived at the Henry B. Gonzales convention center this weekend for the FIRST Robotics Competition. Called FRC, the competition is part of the larger Alamo-FIRST that hosts several robotics competitions for students of different ages.
Of the 61 teams that came to San Antonio, eight are now moving on to the world championship in St. Louis.
Three of the teams moved on due to their robotic victory in Ultimate Assent – the game FRC revealed to the teams at the beginning of the year. Their 150 pound robots competed to both shoot frisbees into goals and climb up on a tower. Qualifying teams had to form three-team alliances for the finals, which were held today. Eight alliances competed in a playoff-style bracket until only one alliance remained. For the first fifteen seconds of each match, the robots were autonomous and relied completely on their programming. Afterward, a team member controlled the robot for two minutes.
The victorious alliance was composed of West Lake High School from Austin, Manor New Tech High School from Manor, and Del Rio High School from Del Rio, all from Texas. The victories validated the countless hours of work the students spent on robotics, some of which had been competing on a robotics team for several years.
“It’s taken us a long time to work for this, we’re really proud,” said Alexis Rubio from Manor New Tech High School. “Five years we’ve worked for this.”
“We’ve worked so hard for this and it’s exhilarating to finally see our success materialize into this win. It was awesome,” said Ben Berry from West Lake High School. Berry is a senior and this is his last year with the team.
But winning isn’t everything. Three other teams also moved on to the world championship by winning awards based on their spirit, conduct, and community involvement.
The first of these was the Rookie All-Star Award, given to a team with students from both the Alamo Academies and Early Memorial High School. The team had students from New Braunfels and Seguin as well. The award recognized them for best demonstrating the qualities and values of the competition as a rookie team.
The Engineering Inspiration Award was given to the Lambot team from San Luis Potosi, Mexico. The award was given because the team most inspired their school and community to become engineers and support engineering.
“I think it’s amazing that they recognized our work,” said Nuria Ledezma. “And it’s also inspiring because they believe in us and – by seeing that they believe in us, we get so much motivation to be the change that the world and our country most needs.. ..I feel we are breaking standards here, and we are teaching everyone that we can do it.”
The most prestigious award, called the Chairman’s Award, was received by Lee’s Summit North High School from Lee’s Summit, Mo. It is the highest reward that can be received at a FRC event.
“The team that wins the prestigious chairman’s award is the team that epitomizes everything that FIRST expects from its teams,” said Assistant Alamo Regional Director Jess Jankowitsch. “While you’re competing like crazy, you are doing so with a spirit of wanting everyone to succeed, and so you help other teams.”
Teams must apply for this award, by going through a special process. They write a 10,000 character essay, make a three-minute video, do a five minute presentation, answer questions on their presentation, and do community service. Sixteen teens applied for the award, which was only given out at the very end of the event in a drawn out and dramatic way.
“It was definitely an emotional roller coaster, and when they finally say 1987 [the team’s number] it’s a big deal,” said Ben Glodowski from Lee’s Summit North High School. “We spent countless hours on our speech and how to address the judges, working on how to behave in the pits and on different activities to do in the community — we spent a lot of time on it.”
In an unexpected twist, two more teams got to move to the finals as well. Any team that wins one of the above awards at another region competition automatically goes to the world championship. If they are part of the winning alliance at another competition, their “ticket” to the championship will go to a team in the second place alliance.
Not one, but two of the winning alliance teams had already won these awards and passed on their “tickets” to two second place teams — sending Merritt Island High School from Florida and BSA Robotics Explorer Post 42 from San Antonio to the world championship as well. These teams had no idea they would advance until the end of the final ceremony.
Both Merritt Island High School and their Florida sister High school, Cocoa High School, had their robots destroyed in a vehicle collision the night before the Orlando Regional robotics competition. The robots were rebuilt at that regional and the teams competed there before having them shipped to San Antonio.
“We built two robots in less than two days,” said Dallas Daniele from Merritt Island High School. “The fact that we rebuilt all our robots and made it that far..
The teams competed against one another in the semi-finals. At the Alamo Regional, Team 801 (Horsepower) was able to advance to the finals.