Last week, 8 members of Dwight-Englewood’s “varsity” Robotics Team, Team 207 Critical Mass, competed for the first time at the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) World Championship at St. Louis Union Station.
Despite it being the rookie year for most of our team members, our D-E team finished the week 7-2, and ranked 18th overall out of 128 teams!Faculty advisor and coach Marco Pagnotta, Ph.D., commented, “FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) sponsors four different robotics programs, two of [which] are for high school students: First Robotics Competition and First Tech Challenge. The team’s ‘bot for this year’s First Tech Challenge game, called Velocity Vortex, was built and modified over many competitions held over a season that started in September.”

128 teams in all competed in St. Louis, split into two divisions of 64 teams each. Each team played 9 qualification matches over 4 days; matches were held at the historic Union Station.

Dr. Pagnotta continued, “Overall, Team 0207 went 7 and 2; while not chosen for an alliance, the team was more than pleased on how they performed, ranking 13 out of 64 teams in its division and 18th overall; it was the highest-ranked NJ team at Worlds.”

The 8 student members of Team 0207 Critical Mass who participated included captain and team manager Kenneth Yan; captain, chief builder and driver Robert Thea; chief programmer Robert Aburustum; head of CAD design Ho Jun Lee, builders Austin Crawley and Luke Thompson, driver Ryan Gross and pit manager Philip Lee, together with Dr. Pagnotta and co-advisor/coach Chris Fleischl.
While the performance on the field was certainly gratifying, making contacts and new friends with other teams was equally rewarding. FIRST’s motto of Gracious Professionalism was in full display, as parts were lent and code and suggestions shared freely; one team, The Techno Chix from NY even drove the Bulldogs’ ‘bot back to New Jersey! The contacts made with many other teams will pay dividends next season.

While there were very busy days at Union Station the team was also able to squeeze in a short trip to the Gateway Arch, a night at Busch Stadium to see the Cardinals, and a few samplings of St. Louis style BBQ, one of which was with friends on Team Shatterdome from Korea.

The closing ceremonies with all four FIRST programs present was held at the Dome at America’s Center.  Dr. Pagnotta noted, “the best way to describe it was a STEM rock concert with nearly 25,000 screaming students, coaches, volunteers, parents and friends.”

The team finished the week energized by the support of their peers and teachers back at D-E, who watched their matches as a live stream on the Hajjar STEM Center video wall and cheered them on.

Dr. Pagnotta summed up the experience as follows: “The high energy of the week and being among so many other STEM- minded students was exhilarating; [this competition] validated the hundreds of hours that D-E Team 0207 Critical Mass has put in over the course of this season and energized the team to strive as hard as possible to get back to Worlds next year.”


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