Foothill Schools Taking Hope to be FIRST

St. Francis High School is participating for the first time in the annual For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology challenge, a competition for school robotic teams.
St. Francis High School is participating for the first time in the annual For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology challenge, a competition for school robotic teams.


Several foothill schools’ robotics teams are gearing up for the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) challenge, which takes place in March in the Long Beach Sports Arena.

La Cañada High School, St. Francis High School and Crescenta Valley High School all have robotic teams and are working for a win in the FIRST challenge. This year’s competition – called the rebound rumble – involves robots shooting basketball.

Six schools will be split up into two teams of three. The teams do not know what schools they will be working with. The challenge involves having each school’s robot shooting eight-inch foam balls through hoops of varying size. The highest hoop is 98 inches tall. The higher the goal, the more points the team gets.

La Cañada’s team is in its fifth year taking part in FIRST. The team has proved a strong presence in the competition having reached the world championship multiple times.

“We’ve done really well,” La Cañada teacher, advisor and mentor Steve Zimmerman said. “We made it to the world championship twice. Last year, we finished in sixth place at Las Vegas. So we are looking forward to another good year. Hopefully, we’ll make it to the world championship.”

“I think our chances are pretty good,” said La Cañada president Forrest Bourke. “All the even years we’ve competed, we made it to the national championship. So this is our year.”

The team hasn’t finalized a design yet.

“You’ve got to decide on how you want to drive the robot,” said Zimmerman. “You have to decide how you want to pick balls off the floor. There will be most likely balls on the floor. You’re going to have to pick them up and bring them up. You have to find a way to get them into the basket. You have a lot of challenges.”

La Cañada is helping neighboring school St. Francis, who is participating in the competition for the first time. The schools built a field for the robots to practice on together and will share a bus to go to the Long Beach competition.

“They’ve offered to share some of their experience to guide us through this whole process,” said St. Francis’ teacher, advisor and mentor Benny Sibal. “As a rookie team, we have no idea what we’re getting into. We’ve met with them several times during preseason.

“We’re so grateful for La Cañada. Otherwise it would be very difficult.”

The school got a grant from JC Penny to participate, as the competition is very expensive, about $6,500. St. Francis christened their team Team “Bro bot” with the motto being “Building brotherhood one robot at a time.”

“We are a rookie team,” said Sibal. “The chances [of winning] are very slim, but you know, we’re going to do the best we can. We’re going to try at least to give the best effort. Having the best robot doesn’t guarantee a win, you also need a good strategy”

“[Our chances of winning are] pretty good,” Team Captain Nicholas Schwaigerlehner said. “I mean, I wouldn’t go ahead and say we’re going to win. I think we’re going to do [well].”

On the design, Schwaigerlehner said, “We plan to pick up the balls using roller in the front.  The balls will be fed into two spinning wheels similar to the machines used to through volleyballs.  The critical part of our design it to launch the ball into the basketball rim with accuracy.”

“[The design] is great,” said St. Francis student representative and member Jon Romo. “It makes sense, it’s easy, it’s not something too complicated. A lot of teams try to do something complicated. All you really have to do is go easy. Our goal this year is to just get a robot that will perform well and build up from our experience.” Romo said the main difficulty of the project was time. Each team has six weeks to complete the robot.

At Crescenta Valley High School, the students are working nearly 15 hours a week to build their robot for the competition.

“It’s going to be pretty difficult, but I think we can do it,” said CVHS robotic team member Cooper Shaw. Shaw added that CV was very confident, dedicated 100% for the win.

After the FIRST regional challenge, there’s the championship event. The championship event takes place in St. Louis, Mo. from April 25 through April 28.

Anyone who would like to know more about FIRST Robotics can visit