When we won our First regional, we were amazed. It seemed we had reached higher than we ever could have imagined in the previous years. It was magical, the excitement and drive and confidence that tore through out team. But in this past weekend, competing at the World Championships, we realized we hadn’t seen anything yet.
Everything was new. Everything was ten times bigger than what we’ve experienced. The pits stretched for half a mile, and spanned junior leagues to full field FRC practice arenas. 400 ten by ten foot squares were crammed together, snaking around numerically, signified in division by color. And between them filled thousands of mentors and students, each sporting neon or a jumpsuit–anything to show case their pride in their team.
We unpacked our pit and uncrated Sally the robot in seemingly record time. Then most of the members there that day listened to the leaders of FIRST drop some pearls of wisdom acquired after many years of success. On the pit floor, there was no panic. A new part was installed. The cRIO was wired. The code was deployed. For once, we left the pit with relaxed faces and a general feeling of readiness.
Our next day of competition we got the feel for the scale of the event. The field we practiced on was nicer than our regional’s, and debatably better organized. We found out our quick solution at Midwest worked better than our elegant CAD solution, so we headed into battle with a tool tied to our robot–it worked, if nothing else. But going to queue on the real deal competition match was an inundation of flashing lights and pyramids. Six fields stretched around a 50,000 person football stadium, and scattered applause and announcements drifting around the dome echoed continuously as we pulled our faithful Sally towards her starting position.
Matches proved generally fantastic. Our average individual score from Northern Lights more than tripled, and from Midwest at least doubled. We were scoring consistently over fifty points per match with our feeding hastened and our climber balanced. We didn’t miss a frisbee all day. The announcers went crazy for our signature ‘pew pew’ of our feeder’s piston. We finished the day with two wins and a loss, but our ‘bot was looking great out there, so we didn’t feel much worry the second day either.
On Friday, we experienced our first Championship opening ceremonies. Dean Kamen and Dr. Woodie Flowers were there–really cool. Then a surprise appearance by will.i.am–extremely cool. As we were gearing up for our hardest day of competition, it did everyone’s morale well to remember why we do what we do, and implications it can have for the world.
Matches that day were to be expected while facing the best teams in the world. But we continued our accurate shooting and adjusted our autonomous to be even more beneficial to our overall game strategy. We even reminded any robot that tried any defense just what we did to win our place here, and shoved them clean across the field to our feeding station. Sally had some casualties, including a bent climber and an unfortunate tip, but no lasting issues persisted and we ended our Friday with an average score of 52 and proof of our team’s abilities. For the first time in 3061 history, we left the pits before they closed.
After two more close matches, we ended with a perfectly split record. Our position was low, but we had confidence in the scouting of other teams and were eager to get picked. But as picks wound their way down the top eight and again back up, the elite alliances filled without a single offer. We were done. It’s tough to be the new kids.
Regardless of how we ended, we rocked every step of the way. Something that would have stopped our hearts two years ago to see was now a genius idea we wish we’d thought of, and stored away for next year. Where our team has been and who we are becoming are very distinct entities, but seeing what it takes–in terms of engineering, scouting, gracious professionalism, and above all else, making it loud–just pushes us harder to get this far every year.
This has been an amazing season. An impossible task was given to four thousand and some teams around the world and we fought it hard to bring it down to something we could excel at. The growth of our team and it’s recognition around our school and community is accelerating in the right direction, with only upwards to go. I promise next year will be a completely different experience for everyone, but with every year it gets better.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. Make It Loud.
– Cari C