We've reached another milestone – the final countdown to my son's last Robotics tournament. The. Last. Ever. I will miss these moments. The FIRST Robotics Competition is for high school students worldwide. For those of you who aren't familiar, Robotics season is a BIG deal. My son has lettered every year in high school – yes, at his school you can earn Varsity sports status on the Robotics team! His team has won awards year after year for innovative engineering and promoting STEM in the community. His favorite community service project was adapting ride-on electric cars for toddlers who have physical challenges.
I'm a Robotics Mom and proud of it. I love watching my son bring all of his hard work and know-how to the field. He is in his element, and it's wonderful to see him doing something he loves. The FIRST program has been so good for him. He has grown from a shy Freshman to a leader and role model for the younger students. His coach is fantastic and a terrific mentor. I can't thank him enough. He's enthusiastic about how far my son has come. He praises his ability to problem solve and to patiently teach younger kids about Robotics and STEM in general. His role on the team has been to program the robot in JAVA since his first year.
The season runs from early January to April. The teams are issued a challenge that is livestreamed to the whole world at the same time. This year the theme was Steamworks. They have 6 weeks of "build season" to create a robot that will be able to compete. Every year the challenge is different. Perseverance, imagination, problem solving, graphic design, physics, math, engineering, and computer programming all play a part. In addition, there are roles for STEM outreach, marketing, social media, planning demonstrations, team spirit, and community service. Each student participating in FIRST gains from learning and applying skills inside and outside the classroom.
The students have to complete their robot by a certain day and time. Then it's time to "bag and tag" to make sure it is sealed until their first competition. Since this is my son's last year, I made a commitment to attend every competition this year. There are practice matches, district competitions, and, if your team pulls it off, The FIRST ROBOTICS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS for the top teams. His team pulled it off. "World's" is incredible.
Every district tournament comes with a case of sensory overload, and the Championship is no different. Huge screens show the action on 6 different fields & display the scores for each match. Flashing lights are everywhere – on the field, led lights on the robots, and in the stands from the crowd. There is loud music playing nonstop. Occasionally, videos with 80s music songs made by students are shown on the big screen – themes like "screw loose" to the music of Footloose and "brainiac" to the music of Maniac. Cheering, screaming, and team spirit permeate the arena.
Chants in the stand are the same as any other sport. Except in this one, you see robots slamming into each other like bumper cars, yellow balls all over the floor, robots zipping across the field at surprising speeds, hats of many shapes and sizes with lights, feathers, bunny ears, and green squiggly hair. Everyone is wearing safety glasses! What other high school competition has everyone wearing safety glasses from the lab? (Because of the possibility of robot parts becoming projectiles at any moment!). Team names & themes are fun, so are the team flags. Every year these things are the same. Every year it's a new challenge with new rules, specs, and objects to work with. The buttons each team makes to trade with each other cover jackets & capes & down each side of pants legs. Nerds are celebrated and cool! In the last final matches, its total war and just about anything can happen. They leave everything on the field – literally. A graveyard of parts and emotions. A lifetime of memories. It won't just be my son that will hold them close.
Click here to watch the final match for 2017.