Enthusiastic and animated spectators dressed in bright team colors chanted loud cheers at a packed high school gymnasium this past weekend in the rural Pinelands region of southern New Jersey, but they weren’t there for a sporting event.
Instead, fans traveled to Seneca High School in Tabernacle from New Jersey, Delaware and Eastern Pennsylvania to support 38 high school teams engaged in battles fought not by the students themselves, but by their robotic creations.
In its 23-year history, the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology) Robotics district-level competition had never before been held in South Jersey.
“We were thrilled that the Lenape Regional High School District was given the opportunity to be the first to host here,” said Dr. Megan Jones, a physics teacher at Shawnee High School in Medford. “We were fortunate to have had tremendous support from our school district and community.”
From left to right, Adam Feldscher, Noah Moran and Brandon Judy stand with the robot they helped to design and build in six weeks for the FIRST competition. (Kerry Brown/for NewsWorks)
Dr. Megan Jones, wearing the required safety glasses, is a physics instructor and the coach of the Iron Devils robotics team. (Kerry Brown/for NewsWorks)
Dr. Jones coaches the Iron Devils, a team composed of 70 students from Shawnee and Seneca High Schools in the Lenape District.
“We had six weeks to build the robot. We’ve competed in three rounds so far and we have one win and two losses so far,” said Matt Judy of the Iron Devils.
“There are 12 qualifying matches total, so we still have a long way to go,” he said.
This year’s game, designed by FIRST engineers, is called “Rebound Rumble.” Robots, designed by students who are mentored by advisors from the business community, must shoot small basketballs into hoops and perform additional tasks, such as balancing another robot on a platform.
Each team forms an alliance with two others and then competes against other alliances. The teams score points when the robots make shots at hoops of varying heights.
Nicole Joie, 16, a student at Cherokee High School in Marlton, has been involved in the robotics competition since the eighth grade. Joie is a member of the STORM Robotics team, another Lenape district team, which built a robot dubbed “Donald Duct.”
“You’re competing with someone but still cooperating with them at the same time,” Joie said. “And everyone is so nice at competitions. Even when you lose to someone you still feel alright about it because you feel like (you lost to) a good team,” she said.
Teams are judged on design, team spirit, professionalism and the ability to overcome obstacles. They also create business plans, raise funds and market and manage all facets of the project.
“This is competition season,” said Ella Seeman, 16.
Seeman has been competing for three years for STORM Robotics at Lenape High School in Mount Laurel.
“If we do well here we go to states and if we do well at states we go to worlds. We compete every few weeks,” said Seeman. “I like everything about competing. Even when you lose it just means that there’s a robot that’s continuing on; that they designed a better robot.”
In the end, STORM and Iron Devils made it to the quarter-finals and both hope to be invited to the District Championship in Philadelphia.
The Iron Devils are also excited to be representing their community in April at the FIRST Championship in St. Louis, Missouri.”
FIRST is an organization started by Dean Kamen, creator of Segway Personal Transporters. According to its website, the FIRST mission is in part “to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders.”
The FIRST Competition at Seneca High School was one of five district competitions where teams can compete for a spot in the Mid-Atlantic FIRST Robotics Regional Championship at Temple University’s Liacouras Center next month.