With only eight members, six months of experience, and one 30-pound device, the Egg Harbor Township Police Athletic League's FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Team is having a phenomenal first year of competition.
The Enforcer's Robotics Team recently was named the second top team in the state after competing in the Garden State Rumble FIRST Tech Challenge State Championship at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark on March 2.
The Enforcers earned the right to be at this tournament after winning the third annual "Fall Harvest" Lego Robotics FIRST Tech Challenge League Qualifier last November.
During the state championship, the Enforcers competed against 47 other teams from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, finishing with a record of eight wins and two losses. The competition consisted of five qualification matches within their division and a finals tournament, where the team quickly advanced through the quarter-finals and semi-finals to get to the final championship match.
During each match, the team performed well during multiple stages, using numerous game elements to show off their robot's skills, said Hector Tavarez, team coach and executive director of the Egg Harbor Township Police Athletic League, which sponsors the team.
The wear and tear of the competition ultimately proved too much, however, and the team suffered a devastating loss during the finals when their robot was damaged by the opposing team, preventing their advancement to the championship round.
"It got a little rough. You could say we took a beating," said Tavarez, who described the attention they got from other teams as a mixed blessing.
"As often happens in these circumstances, when you're identified as one of the top teams to beat you become a target," he explained. "It was nice to get the respect and admiration, but that also meant we were getting viewed as a threat."
The opposing robot that inflicted so much damage was not only larger, but had more defensive moves that prevented the 30-pound Enforcer robot from escaping.
Despite the damage to their robot that caused them to lose the competition, the team is very proud of its victories so far. In its rookie year, the team won seven trophies, including the Most Innovative award and the Rookie of the Year award, which makes for some pretty impressive bragging rights.
"They have all worked tirelessly on this project," Tavarez said. "I'm impressed with how much work they put into it. These kids are very dedicated."
The Enforcers Robotics Team meets and works out of the Area 51 building at the PAL Complex off Ridge Avenue. The team is made up of middle school and high school students from the Egg Harbor Township School District, Cedar Creek High School and Hamilton Township School District.
The Enforcers are one of the top nine teams in a tri-state area invited to compete at the Northern Super Regional Competition in York, Pa., taking place from April 3-5. The top 25 teams of the Super Regional will continue to Nationals in St. Louis, Mo., from April 23-26.
As excited as they are about advancing in competition, the team is also facing some set backs.
The beating the robot took during the last competition caused about $700 worth of damage. That, plus the fact that at this late stage in the season motors and other hardware parts simply get worn out and must be replaced, have caused a financial blow to the team.
Factor in the $3,000 cost for the team to attend the upcoming regional competition in Pennsylvania, then another $5,000 to $6,000 if they are fortunate enough to make it to nationals in St. Louis, and you're talking a whole lot of money, Tavarez said.
The team will have a busy next few weeks repairing the robot, making improvements, refining programming, driving practicing and fundraising.
The Enforcers will hold a Spaghetti and Meatball Dinner this Friday at the Ridge Avenue EHT PAL Center. Tavarez said he hopes for a good turnout from the community. If anyone is unable to attend but would still like to make a donation to help support the team, they could do so my contacting him or visiting the website, he said.
The team would also like the following sponsors, who have been very generous, Tavarez said: The National Association of Police Athletic Leagues, Dr. David Sarnoff, Vincent Polistina and Associates Engineers & Planners, The Remembering Jamie Foundation, The New Jersey Police Athletic League, Azzur Group LLC., Bennett Chevrolet, and the Sleepy Hollow Family Campground.
The team would also like to thank their mentors for their advice and guidance throughout the season, he said.
For information about how to get involved in the Enforcer's Robotics Team, either as a member or to be a sponsor, contact Tavarez at 609-839-5860 or see EHTPAL.org or usfirst.
Contact Lucia C. Drake:
If you go
EHT PAL Enforcers Robotics Team Spaghetti and Meatball Dinner
5 to 9 p.m. March 21
PAL Center, 2590 Ridge Ave., Egg Harbor Township
$20 adults, $15 children, or $50 per family
Advance tickets preferred, but also sold at door. Call 609-645-8413 or see EHTPAL.org.