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Mt. Everett Robotics team updates from World Championships  

Although one team had expressed interest in having us join them, this did not materialize and so our Cinderella run in St. Louis came to an end this morning. In what seemed a reversal of the way things generally go, the kids took the result with more equanimity than the adults, including me. The big story is how well we did against much larger schools who were better financed. In fact, Mt Everett finished ahead of every other school in New England. A great achievement.

Update: 1 p.m. Saturday, April 25

VALE SANCTI LUDOVICI: Higgs Botts on its way home…

Well, after a nail-biting 20 minutes this morning, the Higgs Botts robotics team from Mt. Everett is on the bus heading back to the Berkshires I knew very little about the intricacies of robotics competition when I came to St. Louis on Wednesday but I think I’ve learned the basics. Let me offer a brief explanation of how the teams make it through the challenge.

After elimination competitions in regional and “super-regional” matches around the world, 128 teams won the right to advance to St. Louis. The teams were then divided into two groups, Franklin and Edison. Mt Everett was randomly placed in Franklin, along with 63 other teams. In order to be guaranteed a place in the finals, a team had to finish in the top 4. There would then be a winner in Franklin and a winner in Edison and they would face each other for the right to be called the World Champion.

A Lego team from China being interviewed for cable TV.  Only one of these adorable boys spoke English but all of them wanted to have a turn at the mike.  Scenes like these happened all the time. Really priceless.
A Lego team from China being interviewed for cable TV. Only one of these adorable boys spoke English but all of them wanted to have a turn at the mike. Scenes like these happened all the time. Really priceless.

Alliances. No team wins a match on its own. Each match…and there are nine for every team in the rounds leading up to the finals…has two teams facing an opponent of two teams. Each “alliance” works together to defeat the opposing alliance. How are alliances determined? This is the fun part; teams watch each other in action and in the practice “pits” to try to find a compatible team to ally with to form an alliance that is stronger than the sum of its parts. In the final rounds today, alliances consist of three teams rather than two. Only the first four teams in each division are guaranteed a spot in the final. These four teams each select two other finishers not in the top two to compete alongside them.

Higgs Botts of the SBRSD finished 15th of the 64 and thus we had to be picked to be part of an alliance of one of the top two or go home. Although one team had expressed interest in having us join them, this did not materialize and so our Cinderella run in St. Louis came to an end this morning. In what seemed a reversal of the way things generally go, the kids took the result with more equanimity than the adults, including me.

These past four days have been so much fun and so intense that I needed to take a nap. But not before heading back from Union Station to where I’m staying in an extraordinary boutique hotel near St. Louis University with a stop for jazz brunch at the Magnolia Cafe. St. Louis, just up the road a bit from Memphis, has had a long and rich jazz, blues, and soul history. To name a few: Chuck Berry, Ike and Tina Turner, Bix Beiderbecke, Lightnin’ Slim, and Bobby McFerrin. Langston Hughes, one of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, was born in nearby Joplin.

I’ll bring back so many excellent memories and revelatory moments, including the beautiful diversity of the participants and especially the significant number of female students who were the core of many of the teams. Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, etc., and they all seemed oblivious to the differences.

Such an up experience that I’m going to allow myself the indulgence of an emoji.

*     *     *

Dispatch: April 24, Friday night, 11:30 p.m.

Each of the 128 teams has 9 matches in the competition. By about 4 this afternoon (Friday, April 24) all teams had completed all their matches. There are 2 divisions, each with 64 teams. The top 12 teams in each division advance to the semi-finals Saturday morning. We were 15th in our division but that does not necessarily mean we are out of it, because teams form alliances and a top team could pick up because they feel that their style of play is complemented by ours. Selection of alliances will take about 15 minutes tomorrow morning. Although unlikely, we might still be in.
The big story is how well we did against much larger schools who were better financed. In fact, Mt Everett finished ahead of every other school in New England.  A great achievement.

 

*     *     *

St. Louis, Mo. — By now, most people in the Berkshires… and even as far away as Blandford, (Mass.)…know that the nine members of the robotics team from tiny (about 220 students) Mt. Everett High School were Commonwealth of Massachusetts champions for the past year years. This year, they finished in high enough position at the East Regionals in Scranton (Penn.) to qualify for the First Tech World Championships in St. Louis.

The Mt. Everett Robotics Team enters St. Louis Union Station where the competition is taking place.
The Mt. Everett Robotics Team enters St. Louis Union Station where the competition is taking place.

Traveling by “marshmallow” bus in order to minimize expenses, the nine members of the team and four chaperones (and tag-team drivers of the bus) arrived in St. Louis, weary but eager on Tuesday evening.

Although there are several venues, the matches for robotics (as opposed to the LEGO competition for younger students) are held at the magnificent Union Station, once the busiest train station in the world. The station, which is massive, rivals in design and beauty, the great railway stations of London, Rome, and New York.

The sponsors of the event estimate that as many as 12,000 students from around the world are here for the competition. Add the supporting players of parents, teachers, mentors, the media, and various hangers-on and you can understand why there hasn’t been a hotel room available for these four days since February.

For those of you new to robotics competition, each team designs, builds and programs its own robot. (These are impressive things, these robots, and not at all similar to the Erector set Ferris wheels you might have made as a kid.) Although the robots are individual to the team, the tasks in competition are the same. Reduced to its basics, four robots compete on a playing field. Teams form alliances so that a “red” team faces a “blue” team to see how many balls they can scoop up from the playing field and drop them into tubes of 30, 60, or 90 cm. in height. Each “match” lasts 150 seconds and each team has many matches beginning Wednesday and continuing through today (Friday, April 24). The finalists compete for the world championship on Saturday.

stewart and team
Carl Stewart and Higgs Bots’ Ben Webb talk to a team from the Netherlands.

There are a total of 128 teams in the competition. All of them went through a similar process as Mt Everett to arrive here. There are 96 teams from the United States and 32 from other countries, e.g., China, Japan, Russia, Australia, the Netherlands, South Korea.  (Kim Jong Un, leader of North Korea, did not field a team out of concern that eating steaks and drinking Bud would be a corrupting influence.)

Because I cannot avoid a bit of chauvinism, I’d be remiss if I failed to report that near the end of competition Thursday, the Mt Everett team ranked 10th among the 64 teams in its division.

Today is the big day with the “pits” and practice fields opening at 7 a.m. I’m having a quick breakfast and will be reporting back to you Edge readers.

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