MEMBERS AND MENTORS from Team 319 (orange) from Prospect Mountain High School and Team 4925 (purple) from Kingswood Regional High School pose together after wrapping up the competition and packing their robots to be shipped back to New Hampshire. (Tim Croes photo) (click for larger version)
May 01, 2014ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Back in January, the U.S. FIRST robotics teams from Kingswood Regional High School and Prospect Mountain High School began their build period.
They each had six weeks to build a robot for competition in Aerial Assault, this year's challenge, which involved launching and catching yoga balls and scoring goals while paired up with two other robots from other teams. They probably never expected to make it to World Championship in St. Louis, Mo. For Kingswood, that goal may have been even more of a dream, as this was the first year the school had a team competing.
The team from Kingswood, Team 4925, also known as "The Resistance," got to St. Louis thanks to being awarded a Rookie All-Star award during the District Championship in Boston two weeks ago, but the team from PMHS found out even later.
Head mentor Brian Hikel got an e-mail from U.S. FIRST one week before they would have to leave indicating that five teams had dropped out, and they were given an invitation. The Prospect team, Team 319, also known as "Big Bad Bob," was headed to St. Louis. But they would soon find out that they would be traveling with a team from just up the road.
Both teams needed to raise nearly $10,000 and they didn't have much time. They managed to raise the money, and they were both ready to leave for St. Louis.
And then there was a problem. The bus that was supposed to take Kingswood to St. Louis (along with the team from Windham) broke down on its way up from Massachusetts.
Josh Keaton, the mentor for Kingswood, was notified early Tuesday morning and he had to scramble to find an alternative.
Well, it just happened that the bus with members from Bob and with members from Bishop Guertin High School in Nashua, had room for a couple more students.
The three teams traveled 1,200 miles through nine states and they arrived in St. Louis on Wednesday afternoon. They didn't get back until late on Sunday night. Neither of the teams made past the qualifying rounds and into the semifinals.
But they will have made memories that they will never forget.
Kingswood picked up a win on Thursday, a pair of wins on Friday and finished with a 3-7 record and were ranked 81st out of the 100 teams in the Archimedes Division.
Prospect Mountain finished the qualifying round with a 5-5 record and were ranked 49th out of 100 robots in the same division.
It should be noted that the team from Windham was picked to compete in the World Championship as an alternate robot and was knocked out in the semifinals.
There were nearly 400 robots competing at the U.S. FIRST World Championship and the competition took place in the Edward Jones Dome, which is where the NFL's St. Louis Rams play their games.
In addition to the robotics championship, there were teams competing in Lego League, Junior Lego League and First Technology Challenge.
Between the four competitions, there were more than 750 teams competing from around the globe.
It was quite an experience for the students to be part of. They socialized and made friends with robotics teams from all over the world including Mexico, Canada, Europe, China, Japan and South America.
Hikel described the experience perfectly, "It was awesome."
At the beginning of the season, he set a goal for the team to reach Boston. They surpassed that goal and made it to St. Louis. They competed against the best robotics teams from throughout the country, some with six-figure budgets for their robots.
"We didn't have a mechanical failure in Boston or in St. Louis," Hikel added. "We have a lot to be proud of."
Hikel has been a mentor for 18 years and he is already looking forward to next year, and with a young team, with only three seniors who went to St. Louis, he feels that they will be back.
Teddy Pruyne, the captain of Team 319 who is attending college in Hawaii in the fall, was glowing about taking part in the National Championship.
"When the season started, we set a goal to get to Boston," Pruyne said. "We did that and even more."
Pruyne was able to meet students from all over the world and hopes that he can find a robotics team in Hawaii and be part of it next year.
"If I can find a team in Hawaii, I would love to help mentor one," Pruyne added.
The team from Kingswood will be challenged next year, as you can only be a rookie once.
Keaton was excited about the whole experience and knows that the students will cherish it forever. Keaton was joined by fellow mentors Jim Ladd and Jeff Roberts in St. Louis.
Hikel was joined in St. Louis by Joe Derrick, a physics teacher at PMHS, and mentors Mike Tidd and Ty Tremblay, who are both PMHS graduates and loved being a part of the team.
Both teams were able to get out and enjoy St. Louis for a little bit and check out the arch near the Mississippi River.
Team 4925 attended a St. Louis Cardinals game on Friday night, and some members of the Team 319 also attended the same game and got to see the Cardinals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates by a score of 1-0, which was followed by a short fireworks shows celebrating the victory.
The teams didn't get back until about 10:30 p.m. on Sunday night. They first had to drop the team from Bishop Guertin off at their school. When they got back they had traveled more than 2,400 miles on a charter bus, and if you had to ask them, I'm sure they all do it again in a heartbeat.