The Hamilton High School's Robotics Team 537 returned from the international FIRST Robotics Competition on April 28, wrapping up a successful season marked by accolades and awards.
Team 537 was honored this year with the Gracious Professionalism Award, recognizing high-quality work and respectfulness, at the Wisconsin Regional Competition in Milwaukee in late March. Earlier that month, they were awarded the regional Chairman's Award for the third time in four years at the Lake Superior Regional in Duluth, Minn. The Chairman's Award is a significant honorarium, given to the team that "best represents a model for other teams to emulate, and which embodies the goals and purpose of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology)," according to the organization's website.
Booster Club President Kevin Smith said via email the only other regional team to have a similar run of success is Milwaukee's "More Robotics" from St. Thomas More High School.
"The team's recent run of success has been nothing short of amazing," Smith said.
Senior Megan Monzingo was involved in marketing for the team.
"My main job is to sell the team and show what we are capable of," she said.
She did just that, helping to write a 10,000 character essay and create a five-minute presentation that explained how the team demonstrated the qualities exemplified by Chairman Award winners.
She said participation in the robotics program has taught her time-management skills; students have to balance robotics with homework during the school year. She will be attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee majoring in math education. She said that before she joined the robotics team, she was interested in nursing.
Parents jump in to help
Smith said that he and his wife never had an opportunity to compete in FIRST Robotics ("My wife and I are both Hamilton grads, but that was before robots roamed the earth!"), but their sons Brendan, 17, and Sam, 15, are both members of the team. Smith and his wife became boosters when Brendan was a sophomore on the team.
"The parents are very involved in the team," Smith said. "The booster club itself is not huge, but any time we need help parents just jump right in."
Because of the team's ranking in Milwaukee - top 25 percent - they were allowed to compete in the international competition in St. Louis. Adviser Lori Hintyz, a social studies teacher at the high school, has been involved with the team since 2002. She said the team did really well in their International Chairman's Award presentation, but because of last minute redesigns to the robots shooting function, they did not do so well in the competition, ranking 98th out of 100.
"The kids are looking at what they did this year, and next year I think they will make some great changes," Hinytz said.
Varsity sport for the mind
FIRST is a nonprofit organization founded in 1989 to promote science and technology among young people through various competitions. The Robotics Competition is billed as, "The varsity sport for the mind." Teams of high school students are challenged to raise funds, design a team "brand," hone teamwork skills, and, finally, build and program robots to compete against others in performing designated tasks.
Hamilton's Team 537 currently claims 70 students as members, who work all year in a variety of capacities to support the team, including website management, sponsorship recruitment and, of course, robot construction. The team is supported by several technology-intensive corporations, including QuadTech, Rockwell Automation, GE Healthcare and Centare.
This year's challenge was entitled "Ultimate Ascent." Teams were expected to build robots that could launch discuses into goals placed at various heights and climb a pyramid structure in the center of the arena. Previous competitions had titles like 1992's "Maize Craze," 1996's "Hexagon Havoc," and 1999's "Ladder Logic."
For the "Ultimate Ascent," the match begins with a 15-second "Autonomous Period" during which robots who score goals operating independently, without student control, may earn additional points. For the rest of the period, the students control the robots remotely, trying to pick up discuses dropped into the game and shooting them into goals placed anywhere from a few inches to a few feet above the ground. The higher the goal, the greater the points awarded.
The match ends with robots trying to clamber up a pyramid located in the center of the field. The higher the robots climb, the more points are awarded.
Team 537 will not be taking a break over the summer. In July, the team will be running a Bleed for Bots blood drive and the robot will be featured in demonstrations at Summerfest.
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