At first glance Saturday, it appeared the Southold High School robotics team had come up just short of reaching the 2016 FIRST Robotics World Championship.
Despite possessing one of the top robots during the two-day regional competition at Hofstra University, the team lost in the third match of the best-of-three finals.
What the team and its supporters might not have recognized at first, however, is that sometimes it’s better to come in second.
Southold Team Rice 870 was awarded the Engineering Inspiration Award at the end of the event, which brings with it an invitation to the world championships in St. Louis, Mo. and financial assistance from NASA covering the event’s $5,000 entry fee.
“The team was absolutely thrilled,” said team mentor Christine Schade, a math teacher at the school. “The team competed so hard and it was a little disappointing to fall in the finals. When we found out we won the Engineering Inspiration Award we were overjoyed.”
Southold now has the opportunity to join hundreds of teams from across the U.S. and the world in the finals April 27-30 at The Dome at America’s Center, which until recently was home to the NFL’s former St. Louis Rams franchise.
Southold Robotics, a team of about 30 students in grades nine through 12, has limited time to accept the invitation and would then need to raise funds for travel expenses, Ms. Schade said. An official decision is expected Monday, but Ms. Schade is optimistic the team will receive the support to compete in nationals.
“I can’t say enough about how supportive our administrators are,” she said. “We’re so incredibly lucky that our administration, including high school principal [William Galati] and superintendent [David Gamberg] believe in what we do, because that’s not always the case at other schools.”
That’s primarily because robotics is an expensive endeavor that requires a great deal of financial support from the community. Robotics programs typically spend about $40,000 a year just to get to regionals, Ms. Schade estimated.
Southold raises funds from parents and local businesses, including its primary corporate sponsor, Miller Environmental Group of Calverton.
“We were even fortunate enough to have one of their engineers help us with our build,” Ms. Schade said.
If money is one obstacle to succeed in robotics, time is the other. Teams are given just six weeks to create and practice with their robot, which is built to fit specific parameters that change each year before the regional competition.
Team members then dedicate about eight hours a night, seven days per week to prepare. Parents also help out every step of the way, including this year’s non-faculty mentor, Bob Gammon.
“There are many long nights for these students and parents,” Ms. Schade said.
On Saturday, the teens learned it was all worth it. Competing in a three-team alliance, Southold was paired with teams from Patchogue-Medford and Cold Spring Harbor high schools. In all, 51 teams competed in the event, mostly from Suffolk and Nassau counties.
The top team at regionals, however, was Marista Pio from Hamburgo, Brazil, which competed in an alliance with Sachem and William Floyd high schools.
This year’s challenge, First Stronghold, was based on a popular medieval castle-conquering and battle-strategy game. Robots gained points by incapacitating defenses and scoring boulders through goals in the opposition’s tower.
The Long Island regionals are organized by School-Business Partnerships of Long Island, Inc., which was founded more than 30 years ago with the goal of developing partnerships between local high schools and businesses that would provide students with practical experience and curriculum development and help the business community develop its future workforce, according to the organization.
Check back Monday for official word on the world championships and more information on how to support the team.
Caption: Robotics team members prepare for regionals. (Credit: rice870.com)