Iron Panthers Win World Championships


New World Champions

James Lowdon, Senior Reporter

Burlingame’s Iron Panthers robotics team took home the title of World Champions in the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC)  World Championship after four hard fought days of competition. The tournament took place in Houston, Texas from April 17 to April 20  and drew in 403 of the best robotics teams from around the world.

Every year, FRC offers a new challenge for the high school teams. The 2019 challenge, called Destination: Deep Space, involved competing in an alliance of four teams, with the main goal of building a robot that picks up and loads objects into a “spacecraft.” Alliances earn points based on a variety of factors and the team with the most points is crowned the victor.

The 403 robotics teams competed until there was one winning alliance from each division. The division winners then competed until one final winning alliance was declared world champions.

The Iron Panthers got off to a rough start, experiencing technical difficulties.

“Going into  worlds, the team outlook was pretty bleak,” Engineering Lead and senior Ethan Lai said. “We’ve been strapped for time since our first competition, and the mechanisms we wanted to use definitely needed more testing going into the first day of qualification matches. This was reflected in our first day of quals, where we ended up in 63rd place out of 67 teams in the division.”

On the second day of the tournament, the Iron Panthers rebounded. The team solved its mechanical issues and  finished the day having jumped up 42 places to 21st place. It was in this stage that the team was picked to be a partner in a very strong, all-California alliance, with teams from Madera High School, Atascadero High School and the Da Vinci School, where the Iron Panthers proved themselves extremely capable in a defensive role.

From then on, the team found success, winning their division and eventually finding themselves competing in the finals of the world championship.

“We were in a constant state of disbelief,” senior Grace Chen said. The Iron Panthers, being a relatively new team, did not have much experience and had already broken several team records by this point.

“We’ve had a curse of never being able to get past quarterfinals for the past few years, so we were all aiming to at least break it,” senior Justin Lee said.

The team played the final matches in Minute Maid Stadium, with an audience of 20,000 live and another 2,000 watching the competition live stream. The competition ended with the Iron Panthers’ alliance reverse sweeping one of the most famous robotics teams in the world, Bellarmine College Preparatory’s NASA-, Apple-, and Google-sponsored, four-time world champion team “The Cheesy Poofs.” The nail-biting finals match ended with Iron Panthers and its partners victorious, declaring them world champions.

“It meant more than the world to us. We’ve spent up to 10 hours a day for the last four months working on this robot, and seeing it succeed like this is what I imagine seeing your kid succeed would be like,” senior Junha Park said. “I think we all leave a part of ourselves on the robot, and, at least to me, winning worlds was a deeply personal accomplishment.”