A whole lot of skill and a little bit of luck is what the Enforcers Robotics Team from the Egg Harbor Township Police Athletic League is banking on as the team competes this week in the FIRST Tech Challenge World Championship Tournament in St. Louis, Mo.
The Enforcers are one of 128 teams from 25 different countries competing from April 23-26 in the Edward Jones Dome to be named "world champion."
"We have high hopes of doing well," Hector Tavarez, team coach and executive director of the Egg Harbor Township PAL, said during one of the team's final practices before hitting the road. "In order to win, a team has to be good and be lucky, and so far we've been on a good streak."
The eight-member team, made up of middle and high school students, will finish its first year in the FTC competition circuit on a high note, whatever the outcome.
The Enforcers placed third out of 72 teams at the Northern Super Regional Competition in York, Pa., held in the beginning of the month, which earned them the right to advance to the prestigious final round.
To have advanced to this level of competition as a rookie team is a rare feat.
"I'm not going to lie, it was extremely difficult to get where we are. But we are definitely excited," said 17-year-old Emily Darling, the team captain, during a recent break in practice.
She said the team has been busy making adjustments and tweaking the efficiency of the robot.
Team Pit Boss John Seward, a 15-year-old Egg Harbor Township High School freshman, spent the last week meticulously organizing parts and tools to bring to the competition.
Ryan McMahon, 17, a student from Cedar Creek High School, is one of the two drivers who navigates the robot. He is also the lead programmer for the robot's actions during the competition. The team recently added a Plexiglas cover to the robot's arm to increase its load capacity, McMahon said.
"One of the requirements during competition is that the robot must carry blocks from one point to another point within a certain time frame," McMahon said. "So what we did was make it able to carry more blocks at one time without them falling off."
The team is making the 15-hour drive to St. Louis with three team parents and two team mentors. Team officials said they hoped to travel by air, but it proved too costly.
"Fundraising has become a priority," Darling said. "Once we started winning and advancing to the next level, we realized how much money it takes just to stay in the game."
She is quick to add that PAL has been supportive, but as a nonprofit, the budget only goes so far. The team will most likely spend the summer fundraising for next year's competition season, she said.
FIRST Tech Challenge is a robotics competition for high school students based on a sports model. Teams are responsible for designing, building and programming their robots to compete against other teams.
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