SCUSD teams shine at NorCal FIRST Robotics Competition

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School of Engineering and Sciences' SEStematic Eliminators

By Joe Stymeist, Career Technical Education Coordinator

Last weekend, four SCUSD robotics teams took the field at UC Davis’ ARC Pavilion to put their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills to the ultimate test.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is an organization whose mission is to inspire youth to become future science and technology leaders. Its founder, Dean Kamen, most notable for his invention of the Segway, a self-balancing, two-wheeled transportation device, started the organization in 1989.

Over the years, FIRST has developed educational programs and competitions spanning grades K-12. SCUSD teams have been competing in these events since 2007, when the Hiram Johnson High School robotics team, Wire Freaks, won the Rookie Inspiration Award. Since then, there have been a growing number of schools competing at all levels.

This year’s senior varsity group consisted of veteran teams from Hiram Johnson High School, John F. Kennedy High School, the School of Engineering and Sciences and a rookie team from Rosemont High School.

The competition was brutal and it was not unusual to see various robot parts strewn across the playing field at the end of the match. Robots had to be tough and capable of performing complex tasks requiring a large exercise ball to be passed from one ‘bot to another and eventually launched into a goal.

At one point in the competition, Wire Freaks, mentored by Bert Brinkley, were ranked fifth in the overall standings.This was a great accomplishment given the number of opponents and the fierce competition that is FRC. Although they were unable to maintain that position throughout the competition, they still ranked in the top half of the 57-team completion.

The School of Engineering and Sciences SEStematic Eliminators, mentored by Ken Davis, had a challenging weekend. Plagued by programming bugs that kept them out of the top ranks, the team learned some valuable lessons that they will bring to their next rivalry when they compete in the Las Vegas Regionals next week.

The dark horse in this race was Rosemont High School’s Wolverines mentored by David Stafford. Rosemont’s team got a late start in the season and put together a ‘bot that looked like it was made from junkyard parts.Their shooting mechanism was a short handled shovel and most of the core structure was made from materials like PVC and iron pipe purchased from Home Depot. Looks can be very deceiving! The ability of Rosemont’s driver and the tenacity of their build/repair team impressed the judges enough to name them the Rookie Inspiration Team!

The Kennedy Robotics team, mentored by Robert Greene, had just returned from a very successful competition the week before in San Diego. Their robot was showing signs of wear and tear from the previous weekend’s matches, but Kennedy’s team persevered and had another stellar performance in this competition. Their team took home the Industrial Safety Award, which honors the team that progresses beyond safety fundamentals by using innovative ways to eliminate or protect against hazards. They also won the Quality Award, which celebrates a machine’s robustness in concept and fabrication. In addition, the Kennedy team progressed to the semi-finals and earned a bronze medal.

The dedication and effort of these students, parents and team mentors is nothing short of inspiring. Those fortunate enough to be able to make it to this year’s FIRST competition were treated to a wonderful spectacle of STEM education in action. They were witness to the bright future in technological achievement that our region has to look forward to. Our Sacramento FRC Teams are a testament to the vision and mission of the FIRST organization and it is a pleasure to celebrate their success.