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Carmel Students Learn Competition Is 'More Than Robots,' Teacher Says

The Bad News Gears, Carmel High School's robotics team, works on the creations they will use in a regional competition next month. If all goes well, they may win a spot in an international tourney in April. Teacher Don Saldicco is second from right.
The Bad News Gears, Carmel High School's robotics team, works on the creations they will use in a regional competition next month. If all goes well, they may win a spot in an international tourney in April. Teacher Don Saldicco is second from right. Photo Credit: Contributed

CARMEL, N.Y. -- A team of Carmel students Tuesday mailed off machines that will toss Wiffle balls, light up, climb ropes and, they hope, gain them entry into what many call the Olympics of science and technology.

The Bad News Gears spent the last six weeks conceptualizing, designing, building, programming, and testing their robots for the Hudson Valley Regional (HVR)FIRST® Robotics Competition being held at Rockland Community College in Suffern next month.

They had six weeks to complete their challenge. The robots had to be, literally, in the bag at midnight on Feb. 21.

If all goes as planned at the regionals, they may move on to the FIRST® Robotics World Competition in St. Louis in April.

With rapper will.i.am. in attendance, teams turned out in goggles, top hats and other steampunk gear, and the dramatic arrival of FIRST® founder Dean Kamen in a helicopter, the St. Louis event will have all the flash the Super Bowl.

But in this case, “the players aren’t human, they’re robots,” said Don Saldicco, a technology teacher at Carmel High School.

As FIRST®’s slogan goes, the competition is about much “more than robots,” added the team’s mentor.

Six weeks sounds like a lot of time to prepare, but it’s not; it’s a “steep deadline,” Saldicco said.

Things can get stressful, not only for students but for teachers and mentors as well.

FIRST®’s mission may be to inspire young folks to be leaders in the fields of science and technology, but its underlying credo is one of “gracious professionalism.”

Working on deadline toward a goal teaches teammates tolerance and empathy.

“Everyone’s ideas are valid. There is no finger-pointing,” said Saldicco.

“Really, I think FIRST® is preparing the next generation to go to Mars,” he added.

The regionals in Rockland are set for March 24-26. There are 47 teams scheduled to compete and the event is free and open to the public.

The international competition in St. Louis draws teams from as far away as India and Brazil.  It is set for April 26-29.

Winners receive recognition and opportunities associated with their engineering skills and achievements, including coveted internships and job opportunities with organizations, such as NASA and SpaceX.

Saldicco said he has been bowled over by the way The Bad News Gears -- half of whose members are girls – has grown as a team.

“I have seen this before, but not to this degree,” he said. “The energy and sheer determination displayed by the students is palpable – They’re ready to win this!”

For more information, visit www.nycfirst.org/nycfirst-events/hudson-valley-regional .

Parents, prospective mentors, and students interested in getting involved or starting a team to compete in 2018, may contact frcteams@firstinspires.org and visit: http://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/frc/start-a-team .

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