By Mary O’KEEFE
ast weekend, robotic teams from Clark Magnet, Crescenta Valley and La Cañada high schools competed in a FIRST [For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology] contest in Ventura. It was the first time Ventura had hosted a FIRST competition and, for three local teams, it was a successful outing.
Against a field of 40 other competitive teams, Clark Magnet’s Team 696 robot, Centurion, came in third place. The team, the Circuitbreakers, was named alliance team captains.
Crescenta Valley High School Falkon team 589 ranked 12th at the end of the qualifying matches and was given alliance selection process, which moved them into the eighth seeded alliance captain.
La Cañada High School’s team 2429 was chosen by the fifth seeded alliance to join their team.
Each year FIRST organizers design a game for the competition. This year’s game is called Recycle Rush, in which a robot had to be built for the purpose of stacking totes with recycling cans on top and earning as many points as possible.
Robotics teams around the world learned about the game and had six weeks to discuss how they would like to approach the game – offense or defense – and engineer a robot that could achieve those goals. Although this year was a little different, the same basic rules applied, including each team working with other teams, or alliances. After two days of competition, the top teams then choose other teams to join their alliance and they all compete in the final rounds.
The robotic teams are not just about competition; FIRST also inspires social responsibility, which includes outreach programs like mentoring local elementary schools in Lego League robotics.
FIRST also honors mentors who devote their time and talents to high school teams. This year David Black, the teacher/mentor for Clark Magnet’s team, was chosen to receive the Woodie Flowers Award that recognizes an outstanding mentor in robotics competition that best leads, inspires, teaches and empowers their team using excellent communication skills.
Dr. Woodie Flowers is the pappalardo professor emeritus of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a distinguished partner at Olin College. He helped create the “Introduction to Design” course at MIT and was the host of a PBS television series “Scientific America Frontiers.”
Flowers was at the event in Ventura and presented Black with his recognition.
“I cannot express in words how much it means to me,” said Black. “Being selected for this award alone was quite an honor, but to have it happen at an inaugural event where Woodie Flowers himself was there to present it was an experience I will never forget.”
Black’s team was awarded the Quality Award that celebrates machine robustness in concept and fabrication.
Clark Magnet students considered the competition a “huge learning experience” for all of the 31 students that attended.
“This robotics competition was a success. Since this is my first year on the team, I had an amazing experience filled with learning opportunities at every corner,” said Clark Magnet freshmen Karin Najarian, a part of the business group on the team.
CV students echoed those thoughts.
“[Falkon Robotic Club] 589 had a terrific time. We integrated our elevator to the robot and it performed superbly,” said Lynn Repath-Martos, a mentor for the Falkon team. “Our drive team, captained by Jacob Poole, included Daniel Rhyoo, Justin Park, Manav Vats and Sun Key Cho, maneuvered expertly and used all of the toolsets at hand to move totes and recycle bins into place.”
The robot had human players, Sam Linkchorst and Lucas Martos-Repath, to help them during a portion of the game that required pool noodles to be “javelined” across the playing field.
“True to FRC 589’s spirit of community service and volunteerism, more than half of our team participated in a very special community service project in Old Town Ventura on Friday,” Repath-Martos said. “We learned that there were two egregious acts taken by a gang of youths against homeless individuals very close to Ventura’s Old Town – one person was severely beaten with a baseball bat, and another was set on fire. We wanted to make it clear to the community that not all young people are bad seeds and show our concern for the many individuals facing homelessness. Team members from FRC 589 conducted a toiletries and food donation drive at Ralphs La Crescenta on March 20-21; we collected so much that we were not able to take it all to Ventura with us. We delivered nine bags of food items to the Glendale Salvation Army and delivered more than 300 pounds of much needed toiletries with us to a meeting with representatives from the Ventura Salvation Army and Project Understanding organizations. We spent an hour learning about the homeless populations and the challenges they and social workers that work with them face. It was amazing to participate with the team in this endeavor.”
Members of Clark Magnet team 696 can be found at the Hometown Country Fair on April 25 at CV Park, 3901 Dunsmore Ave. in La Crescenta where they will demonstrate their robot Centurion.
Anna Parsamyan contributed to this article.