Robo-ballers ‘rumble’ for points and rebounds on Long Island

It’s a basketball game with a twist: The players are robots.

Fifty teams—48 from high schools across New York and one each from Pennsylvania and Ohio—headed to Hofstra University for the 13th annual FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition. The competition was held March 29-31 at Hofstra’s David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex.

The 13th annual FIRST Robotics Competition took place March 29-31 at the Mack Sports Complex at Hofstra University.

The 13th annual FIRST Robotics Competition took place March 29-31 at the Mack Sports Complex at Hofstra University (LIR photo by Kristen Maldonado)

Students had six weeks to work with professional engineering mentors to design and create a 130-pound robot for the 2012 “Rebound Rumble” robotics game—a game similar to basketball. Teams use their robots to score as many basketballs in a hoop as they can in a two-minute and 15-second match. Hoops are at different heights, offering more points for difficult shots, and each team gets bonus points if their robots are balanced on bridges at the end of the match.

“It’s like watching a basketball game,” said Ramez Khatri, a senior from Connetquot Central School District. “Most of the time, people pay attention to athletes, but with this program you put the focus on us and our future careers.”

Connetquot Central School District has been participating in the FIRST Robotics Competition for three years. Contest rules require teams to stop working on their robots two weeks before the competition. Khatri said that in order to make sure they had fixed all of the kinks in their robot, the Bissell 9000, the Connetquot team made a second robot identical to their first so they could keep tinkering with the design up until the contest.

“[The FIRST Robotics Competition] is an imperative stepping stone for students,” said Ginny Greco, the FIRST Robotics Competition Director for the School-Business Partnerships of Long Island, Inc. “For some, it’s a chance to take part in making a vision become a reality; for others, it opens the door to possibilities that are few and far between these days, like scholarships and job opportunities”

The School-Business Partnerships of Long Island, Inc. is a non-profit organization that launches programs to link high schools and businesses on Long Island. The organization presents the annual robotics competition to inspire students to pursue careers in technology.

Kristie Golden, a long-time member of the School-Business Partnerships of Long Island, Inc. Board of Directors, called the program “very similar to a significant sporting event.” Some schools even brought their mascots to the contest to cheer on the robots.

“[For] many of the students that are participating, this is their sporting event,” Golden said. “It gives them an opportunity to experience the cheering and the excitement around a major competition that ultimately results in something positive for everybody.”

Denise Stephenson volunteered at the FIRST Robotics Competition. Now a substitute teacher in Massachusetts, Stephenson grew up on Long Island, participating in the FIRST Robotics Competition at West Islip High School when she was a student there.

“It was so much fun and really exciting,” Stephenson said about her time competing in high school. “And I got to do it with friends.”

Six-weeks prior, Stephenson mentored her former team, the West Islip Robotics Booster Club, Inc. Robotechs, during the creation of their robot. She said her favorite part of working with these students is, “The way their eyes light up when they get their robot to work.” She hopes to create her own robotics club team in the future.

In addition to making new friends and connecting with students from other schools, there are opportunities for students to win numerous awards, from sportsmanship to design excellence.  More than 1,000 students competed in the Long Island Regional hoping to earn a spot at the championship in Missouri at the end of April.

In addition to advancing in the competition, students had the opportunity to win college scholarships.

“Millions of dollars have gone to Long Island students through this competition from colleges and universities all over the country,” said Kristie Golden.

This year alone students participating in the competition had access to over 600 scholarships worth more than $14 million.