Southold/Greenport robotics team wins Long Island Regional title

The Southold/Greenport High School robotics team, R.I.C.E. 870, has made history once again. Its most recent win at Hofstra University marks the first time the team has won two regional competitions in one season. 

The team competed last weekend at Hofstra’s FIRST Robotics Long Island Regional after having achieved first-place victory two weeks earlier at the 2019 Finger Lakes Regional competition. The Finger Lakes win clinched a spot in the world championships in Detroit, considered the largest student-focused STEM celebration in the nation.

“It was remarkable,” team adviser and Southold High School math teacher Christine Schade said. “We’re breaking records. We’re looking forward to — and we’re feeling really good about where we are in the world arena.”

R.I.C.E. competed against 47 teams again at the Hofstra competition. The teams work in alliances — three teams make up an alliance with a single bot per team. If one bot fails, the alliance moves on to the next.

“In this regional, there were two other teams ranked higher than us and we were No. 3,” Ms. Schade said. “In the finals, we beat the No. 1 alliance in the third match of the best two out of three. In the first finals round, we won by one point, in the second one we lost by one point and then in the third round we won by a little bit more.”

The team went 10 and 0, remaining undefeated throughout the tournament, according to co-adviser Bob Gammon. They competed against groups from a number of different countries, including China, Norway, Turkey and Brazil.

The team’s biggest snag? Their third robot browned out. It wouldn’t move and wouldn’t start up because its motors were drawing too much electricity and its circuit breaker tripped. That bot, which was playing the alliance’s defense, sat inactive for 35 minutes before resetting.

“The robot just completely shut down,” said Greenport senior Jake Mazzaferro.

Jake is one of two students who lead R.I.C.E.’s media team and has been a member since his junior year.

“It was just the other two robots in the alliance doing all the work and we ended up beating the other team. It was a great match.”

Ms. Schade said the team mentors and members had high hopes going into this match, especially because they’d already secured a ticket to worlds. Still, Jake said, R.I.C.E. – which stands for respect, integrity, compassion and equity — powered on defense and overcame its challenges.

“Teams that we [competed] against played some hard defense against 870,” Ms. Schade said, “so that kept our scores and our performance down a little bit. It didn’t throw us, but it certainly made for some nail-biting matches.”

On top of that, R.I.C.E. received a yellow card, which Mr. Gammon attributed to referees interpreting the rules a bit differently this time around. He said it affected the entire tournament for R.I.C.E. — and for the alliance at large. The robotics club also had to compete against Team 3015, Ranger Robotics – with which they were allied in Rochester. Though it was bittersweet to oppose a former ally, Mr. Gammon said, the team prevailed.

Ms. Schade said the mentors found this regional, as well as the Finger Lakes contest, to be especially challenging.

“That’s what makes this win so wonderful, is that the competition was strong,” she said.

The teams are required to build and program one bot during the six-week build season. Southold/Greenport’s bot, unofficially named “Java the Hut,” was created by the build team. Neither students nor mentors are permitted to work on their bots after the build season ends or between competitions.

“When we left Hofstra, we put our robot in a bag and sealed it up,” Ms. Schade said. “We have to ship our robot to Detroit next week.”

In between competitions the team reviews film of past performances to identify areas for improvement.

At the Hofstra regional, the team also earned the Entrepreneurship Award. The award went to the group’s business and marketing department, which is headed by Southold junior Will Dickerson and overseen by mentor Judi Fouchet. The award goes to the team that develops the strongest business plan. Team R.I.C.E.’s plan addressed the club’s sustainability both from a financial perspective and in terms of human resources, outlining what the next steps would be if and when team advisers retire or mentors move on.

“The robot and that side of the team always gets all the accolades,” Mr. Gammon, said. “It was very gratifying to work with some of the other mentors and kids and see them get the award. It’s usually something that the larger schools get, just by the nature of the award.”

When the team arrived at Hofstra Friday, Ms. Schade said, judges came around the pit area to speak to students about the specifics of their bots and plans.

“They want to know that the kids know their robot,” she said. “The same thing goes for the business plan. Kat Kilcommons, because she was one of the students that helped create the business plan, she spoke to the judges very eloquently about what was in the plan.”

R.I.C.E. will compete in the Detroit world competition April 24-27, facing off against 400 teams from around the globe.

The team is fundraising for the trip by selling paper stars in exchange for a donation of $5 to the team. Donors’ stars will be displayed either at one of the high schools or at the business of one of a team sponsor. To purchase a star, contact a team R.I.C.E. member or mentor. Each student has been given the goal of selling 20 stars.

Photo Credit: Christine Silvestro

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