Southold/Greenport robotics team posts its best finish at world championships

After once again making it to the FIRST Robotics World Championship, the Southold/Greenport robotics team, R.I.C.E. 870, earned a semifinalist rank for the second year in a row.

At last week’s Destination: Deep Space-themed competition, more than 400 qualifying teams, which traveled from around the world to participate in what is touted as the world’s largest student-oriented STEM competition, were broken into six subdivisions. R.I.C.E. and its three allied teams competed against 68 teams in the Carson Division, achieving a tie score with the opposition, but losing due to tiebreaker rules. Out of those competing on the world stage, they were the top-ranked team from Long Island and the second in the state.

“The kids played phenomenally,” said Bob Gammon, co-adviser of the team. “They got everything they could out of the robot. In the four playoff games that we played, we had the best robot in the field.”

According to the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) website, more than 70,000 people and 1,300 robots from upwards of 70 countries traveled to Detroit and Houston “to celebrate inspiring young innovators, leaders and change makers.” The objective was for each team to navigate their bot through the imaginary deep space, attaching panels, loading the bot up with cargo — game pieces including hatches and balls — and placing that cargo in the designated “end zone” — on a rocket and cargo ship‚ before the other teams. Teams had to do all this while avoiding a simulated sandstorm, which was created to obstruct their vision.

The four-day competition in Detroit started off with one day of practice matches and two days of qualifiers. The fourth day was made up of sub-division playoff matches, tournaments and finals matches. Each of the competing teams was permitted a coach, a technician and drive team members who represented the overall group.

“We had 10 qualifying matches and we wound up with a record of seven and three,” Mr. Gammon said. “We wound up being seeded fifth, so in the qualifying matches we finished five out of the 68.” This put the team in the top 10%.

R.I.C.E. 870’s drive team on one side of the wall and the team’s robot on the other at last week’s world championship competition in Detriot. (Credit: Christine Silvestro/Courtesy)

In the past five years, R.I.C.E. — which stands for respect, integrity, compassion and equity — has made it to the world championships three times. This year was their best showing, where they ranked 25 out of the 3,500 students worldwide. This was also the first year the team finished as an alliance captain, because they were chosen by the number three seed. Despite doing everything right, Mr. Gammon said, the team had to depend on their allies who, despite working hard, fell short.

“The rule was that if it was a tie, the tie went to the team that committed the least amount of penalties,” team adviser Christine Schade said. “You never want to do something wrong and get a penalty called against you, but we had three penalty points that were not in our favor and that’s how they broke the tie.”

Ms. Schade said the loss was heartbreaking and that it marked an abrupt halt to the team’s progress, but that once they swallowed that tough pill and took a step back, they saw how far the team had come. She and Mr. Gammon expressed tremendous pride in their team of 33, crediting also the many community members who have supported the team both financially and morally.

R.I.C.E. was given a surprise firemen’s sendoff by members of Southold Fire Department, who drove them to Pindar Vineyards in Peconic, lights and sirens running, and community members contributed by purchasing $5 paper stars that lined the walls of Greenport and Southold high schools.

The team boards the bus. (Credit: Christine Silvestro/Courtesy)

Additionally, a multitude of local sponsors took much of the financial burden off the shoulders of the team’s advisers and mentors. Superintendent David Gamberg and his wife, Maryellen Gamberg, flew to Detroit for the championship, as did Greenport’s William J. Mills and Co. president Jamie Mills. Sixteen of the team members’ parents, siblings and extended family members also went to the event, some of them taking the loss harder than some of the kids, according to Mr. Gammon.

“Our robot could not have gotten any better,” said Southold junior Stephen Schill. “That last match, we played the best we played all year … Perfect runs and everything came together very nicely.” Stephen served as the drive team’s “human player,” loading the robot with the cargo it would have to transport.

The team made history earlier this month for winning two regional competitions in one season, one at Rochester Institute of Technology — which gave them a ticket to compete in Detroit — and the other at Hofstra University.

Photo caption: Members of the Southold/Greenport robotics team, R.I.C.E. 870, at the FIRST Robotics World Championship in Detriot last week. (Credit: Christine Silvestro/Courtesy)

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