Iron Panthers Emerge From Underdog Status, Become FTC Hosts

On November 21, the Iron Panthers participated in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Technical Challenge, in which middle and high school teams were challenged to design, build, and program a robot to win a floor game. The Panthers arrived at Saratoga High School groggy and enthusiastic about their prospects and had spent long nights and grueling after-school routines to complete their robots. They ended up ceding on the second alliance and placed third out of twenty-one teams.

A typical day with the Burlingame Robotics Team consists of heading to the Design Lab right after school until five or five-thirty in the evening. Members, each a part of a programming, engineering, or business sub-team, meet with their student leads to discuss assignments, get on laptops, and revise the building and coding process of the upperclassmen Iron Panthers’ and underclassmen Iron Kittens’ robots. Engineers take on the task of designing prototypes while programmers perform countless coding tests and business members are in charge of social media and fundraising affairs. On Tuesdays, the team stays at school until 8:00, and they have Saturday meetings during the spring semester.

All three divisions undergo “no prerequisite knowledge” training and continually face new challenges due to the unpredictable nature of robotics.

“It’s a series of ups and downs,” said junior programming lead Adam Noworolski. “Programmers can be seen running from place to place, trying to test particular pieces of their code, all while other groups continue to plan for more additions. Somehow, all of this craziness has to compile into one fully functioning robot.”

As for the competitions, the team is accustomed to the chaos. Dragging heavy equipment to a host school in the morning and playing a challenging game of Velocity Vortex to score points and show off their robots have become part of the bonding process for the team. In addition to the pure fun of the sport, volunteers from Apple, Google, and NASA have helped judge and assess each team.

Junior team co-captain Austin Soohoo, who joined the fledgling team in 2014 at the insistence of his brother, believes that the best part about competition is the sincere community formed by the games, and the embracement of “gracious professionalism,” an ideal promoted by FIRST.

The enthusiastic attitude resulting from many hours on the road to a robotics competition has prompted the team to host their own FTC on December 11. Hosting is no simple task, and it did not come easy for business members to make the most cost-effective decisions. Although each of twenty-one teams paid upwards of $4,000 for admission, most of the money went to FIRST, and the competition was almost entirely student-run. Scorekeepers, timekeepers, field inspectors, and announcers are all part of the team.

Even though hosting is a challenge in itself, it is the spirit of the game that keeps the Iron Panthers going. They were recognized for their energy in the November tournament when they received the Connect Award for outstanding community outreach. Their success is attributed to festival and fundraising opportunities put together by business members like senior team co-captain Gracie Kober, who agrees that the spirit of the team is what sets the Iron Panthers apart from other extracurriculars.

“No matter what happens, we all continue forward together," Noworolski said.

“I frequently think, ‘If only I could keep doing this forever,’ because it’s my hobby to program, but I also get to spend my time with incredible people, every day.”

The rise of the Iron Panthers this due to their STEM dedication this season foreshadows favorable odds for their February FIRST Robotics Competition.

Posted on December 12, 2016 .