Bridgehampton’s Team Supreme and Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz with their trophy.
By Mara Certic
They spent countless hours building and rebuilding, learning the rules of the game, and just four weeks ago they didn’t even know if they would be able to afford to get to the national championship in St. Louis, but last Sunday, against all odds, Bridgehampton High School’s rookie robotics team came home triumphant from the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship with a second-place trophy in hand.
“It was simply amazing,” said Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz, a tech teacher at Bridgehampton and one of the staff advisors who accompanied the students on the trip.
Bridgehampton’s team 5659, also known as Team Supreme, flew to St. Louis last week to compete in the national competition, which took place from Wednesday, April 22, through Saturday, April 25.
Robotics teams that compete in the FIRST tournaments are given a specific challenge in January, and then have about a month until “Stop Build Day” to build a robot capable of completing that task.
This year, teams were told to build a robot that is able to stack totes on top of one other, and for even more points, to place garbage cans on top of the totes.
The rookie team surprised fellow Long Island teams when it qualified for the national competition by finishing among the top eight at a regional tournament at Hofstra University in March.
When team members got back from Hofstra, they were almost euphoric, but got to work designing a tie dye flag to match their uniforms as well as figuring out how to raise the $15,000 needed to get to St. Louis.
In the end, the school district covered the cost of the air fare, and the team managed to raise an additional $3,000 from a fundraising website and the local community.
The flag, on the other hand, proved to be a little bit of a challenge, but team members Matthew Hostetter and Milo Youngerman worked together to design and order a flag to match their uniforms, which arrived at the St. Louis hotel the day the competition began.
“The flag was excellent,” Milo said. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he added.
According to Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz, the first few days of the competition did not seem to be going the way of the tie-dye-clad Team Supreme.
For the first few days, the teams played in randomly appointed alliances within randomly selected divisions. A few unfortunate pairings, and the scoring system, which took an average of the alliance points as a whole rather than looking at the individual teams left Bridgehampton far back in the pack, in 61st place out of the 76 teams in its division.
The top-ranking team from each of the eight divisions would then go forward to the quarterfinals, with each choosing three non-qualifying robots to join their alliance for the remaining competitions. Proud that they had gone that far, Bridgehampton students and teachers were preparing themselves for a day of sightseeing and exploring St. Louis when they almost missed Team 4488 (or Shockwave) from Oregon ask them to be the fourth member and alternate to their alliance. The other teams in their alliance were teams from Highland, Michigan and York, Pennsylvania.
Luckily, team member Matthew Hostetter heard the invitation and “graciously accepted” over the microphone, as stipulated in the rules of the competition.
“We were just in shock, I thought it was a mistake,” Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz said.
Team Supreme soon found out that the team from Oregon had chosen them for their alliance, in part because of the “cheesecaking” opportunities their robot provided.
“Cheesecaking is when they look at the robots and try to find one they could easily attach a part to, to make it do what they need to do,” team member Harriet DeGroot explained. The Oregonian team wanted to add a long pole onto Team Supreme’s robot, in order to more easily grab the recycling containers that act as multipliers when stacked. Cheesecaking, the team explained, is just one way that many teams find loopholes in the rules.
“Our robot had a strong frame, and it weighed only 90 pounds without their modification. With the modification it weighed 110.2,” said junior Dylan Breault, co-captain of the team. Robots in the FIRST competition have a weight limit of 120 pounds.
Unfortunately the Bridgehampton team never got to see if the cheesecaking would work, because their team was kept on standby for all of their alliance’s games. After taking first place in the quarterfinals and semifinals, their alliance lost by a couple of points in the finals.
Asked what they would have done differently with the hindsight they have now after their first national tournament, the team’s answers ranged from “nothing” to “zero.”
Staff advisor Kenny Giosi made one observation: the most successful teams had all thoroughly studied the rule books and found loopholes to help them win points.
“I know there were certain things we saw people doing that we had no idea we could do,” Mr. Giosi said. Members of the team agreed that might be one way they could improve their chances next year.
Even though they were exhausted from the 12-hour days they worked, team members said they “couldn’t be happier” with how the weekend played out. In addition to the competition and meeting fellow students from all over the world, the students also got to see last year’s winner from the Voice perform at the closing ceremony and got to hear industry giants speak throughout the weekend. President Obama even pre-recorded a video which was played at the closing ceremony.
“I think the coolest guy who was there was the guy who controls the whole Mars Rover,” Dylan said.
“Without robotics, a lot of things wouldn’t have happened,” he said. “The Mars Rover was inspired by a team that made a robot in FIRST. The way the robot drives came from FIRST. So without FIRST, the Mars Rover wouldn’t look the way it does now.”
With just two members, co-captain Claudio Figeroa and Jada Pinkney, graduating this spring, the Bridgehampton robotics team is likely to have a lot of the same names on the roster next year. Their handmade tie-dyed uniforms, they said, will definitely stay the same. “We’ll just maybe make some more,” said physics teacher and staff advisor Helen Wolfe, who accompanied the trip and made students do practice Regents papers on the plane.
“The teachers really made it possible for the students to go,” Mr. Giosi said.
They won’t be able to work on next year’s competition, of course, until the challenge is unveiled next January.
For now, the team is thinking up ways to thank their sponsors for helping them get all the way to St. Louis. Team members studying culinary arts are planning to prepare and organize a dinner for their 30-something sponsors, to take place later this spring.