By Tessa Raebeck
After months of preparation and four days of intense competition, the Pierson Robotics Team placed 49th among the 100 teams in its division at the finals of the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship Saturday.
Pierson’s Robotics Team, also known as FRC Team 28 and the “Beasts from the East,” spent six weeks designing, building and programming a robot—among myriad other competition-related tasks such as networking, marketing and fundraising—starting in January.
At the end of March, the team competed in the Long Island Regional competition at Hofstra University, earning second place and the Engineering Inspiration Award, which qualified it for the national competition.
The successful season culminated Saturday with Sag Harbor earning a position among the top teams in the world—and lots of ammo for next year.
“Everyone seems very motivated to have a great off-season,” said Liam Rothwell-Pessino, a junior at Pierson in his second year on the team. “Plus, everyone had a lot of fun,” he added.
After arriving in St. Louis on April 23, the team kept busy attending conferences, meetings and matches—and enjoying some special celebrity appearances. A total of 400 teams from across the world competed in four divisions: Pierson competed in the Curie Division.
Team captains Lucas Pickering and Alex Cohen, who are both seniors at Pierson and have led the team for the past two years, are passing on the “reins of leadership,” as Liam called them, to junior Kevin Spolarich, who started on the team in 2012 as a freshman.
“I’m happy about where I’m leaving the team, but I’m not quite done yet,” Lucas said Sunday. “We’ve got a lot of plans for the rest of the year to prepare for next season. I’m really glad Kevin is here to take the team over. I know for sure that it’s in good hands.”
“I definitely have some big shoes to fill, but I’m determined to keep our momentum going,” Kevin said of his new position. “We’re going to be recruiting, learning and practicing all through the off-season so we can do even better next year.”
“It was a really great learning experience for us to see all of the amazing robots sponsored by companies like Boeing and NASA and now we know what to expect from competition at that level, which will help us next year,” he continued. “We also were inspired by a lot of interesting designs [at the championship] and we’re planning to experiment with some new systems during the off-season, like the ability to switch between two types of wheels during a match.”
The Engineering Inspiration Award that qualified Pierson for the international championship was given to the team for its work to expand the team’s role in the community. Team 28 did robotics-related charitable work around town, brought in students from East Hampton High School, showed the robot to students at the Sag Harbor Elementary School and taught Costa Rican children about robotics, among other initiatives.
Such awards demonstrate the FIRST competition’s commitment to not just robotics and technology, but also to using the camaraderie and innovation required by a robotics program to further altruistic initiatives and enhance education.
“FIRST really tries to put focus on spreading the message and helping others outside the competition,” Lucas said. “The Hall of Fame is made up of the Chairman’s [Award] winners, which shows that the most important part of FIRST is actually about teamwork and helping others, rather than just robots.”
“When NASA paid for our entry fee to St. Louis because we won the Engineering Inspiration Award—something they didn’t do for competition winners—it showed us how much focus there is on going outside the robot to spread the message of FIRST,” he added.
In the closing ceremony Saturday, the 2014 Chairman’s Award was presented to Team 27, from Clarkston High School in Clarkston, Michigan, for its work helping to advance education. The team flew to Washington, D.C. to lobby for legislation involving STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education for underprivileged children.
“It made me really want to give back to a community that’s been so supportive of us,” Lucas said of the inspirational closing ceremonies.
The closing ceremonies also involved a guest performance by musician and seven-time Grammy Award winner will.i.am, famed as the front man for the Black Eyed Peas and his music videos supporting President Obama’s 2008 run for office.
Throughout the competitive season, in addition to the networking and the fundraising, the technological innovation and community outreach, the lobbying at school board meetings and celebrating at their parade, Team 28 has always appeared dedicated first and foremost to one key component: having fun.
“The closing ceremonies were very fun,” said Liam. “Will.i.am played, but he was pretty mediocre. We had fun throwing paper airplanes from six stories up down at the president of FIRST. One almost hit him.”