By Jessica Ramirez
Our very own South Gate High School Robotics team made a historic appearance this March at the 2019 FIRST Robotics Competition’s LA Regionals, where we competed for the first time. As we all know, South Gate is not STEM specialized, and therefore opportunities in math, science, and technology are not always available. Seeking to open our school to the field of STEM, current senior Ashley Perez founded the club in 2017 and the club has since grown from a small idea to an unprecedented reality. Thanks to the hard work of our members, leadership staff, and mentor, Mr.Moraila, South Gate High School Robotics was able to not only participate alongside 50+ schools from all over the country, but excel as a Rookie (first-year) team and qualify for the World Championships in Houston, Texas. Behind this unexpected success, however, were endless hours of hard work, commitment, and teamwork that went into building our robot, Mr.Scraps.
As aforementioned, our school is not traditionally STEM oriented which only made it more difficult to gain the support, resources, and professional mentorship needed to excel in such a high level of competition that FIRST represents. With the help of board members, Esteban Flores (Vice President), Andy Cristales (Co-Treasurer), Juan Flores (Co-Treasurer), and myself (Secretary), Ashley made this competition a reality. Once the $6,000 registration fee required to participate in the competition was paid, we received a kit of parts from which we had to plan, design, construct, and program a fully functioning industrial size robot in six weeks. At this point, we realized the magnitude of the task at hand, especially given our VERY limited resources. The storage room next to Mr.Moraila’s classroom became our workshop and meeting place three to four days a week.
The club’s 15 members took turns helping with the design, electrical, and technical aspects of the robot and soon we became like a family and constantly working together to conquer this intimidating project. When working out of the storage room became difficult, we saw ourselves having to go from garage to garage trying to find a work space where we had access to the necessary tools. Once again our lack of funding became an issue, as we had to borrow tools from individual members’ homes in order to complete the construction of Mr. Scraps. It was not the most ideal situation. Feeling the time pressure on us, we reached out to Jordan High School’s Robotics team, who were helpful in helping configure the technical parts of the robot. Unfortunately, our six week deadline was approaching and we were not able to include the main design components that would allow Mr. Scraps to complete the assigned task: place hatch panels on cargo ships and carry a ball into those same cargo ships. We had no other option but to stop construction and dedicate our robot to playing defense.
On March 21, a handful of our members went down to the Convention Center from 8 am-6 pm for registration day. There, we met many teams from all over the state, and even from Chile, who had nearly 20 years of experience participating in FIRST. Seeing the sheer size of other teams’ robots, we knew we stuck out as the clear underdogs and truthfully did not expect to be successful. Our spirits quickly changed, however, when neighboring teams showed up to our pit willingly offering their assistance. With the help of over 10 other robotics teams, we were able to get Mr.Scraps moving and set up a defensive game plan for qualification matches the following day. If it had not been for the friendly, more experienced teams at the competition, Mr. Scraps would not have even moved and our hard work would have been for naught. Sticking to our defensive strategies, our team, #7871, was able to provide defensive play to our alliance and avoided being the last-ranking team throughout Friday’s and Saturday’s qualification matches. Despite our better-than-expected performance, Mr. Scraps ultimately ended with a ranking of 44 out of 56 competing teams. At that point, we were relieved about not coming in last.
Once again, our hopes changed later that Saturday when the Award Ceremony began. We were one of two Rookie teams that competed at the LA Regionals and would thus be considered for the two Rookie Awards, meaning we had a 50/50 chance of being recognized. The other first-year team was awarded the “Rookie Inspiration Award” which recognized their teamwork abilities and dedication. To our surprise, the highest-ranking Rookie team would not be automatically awarded the “Rookie All-Star Award”, but rather the most deserving all-around team would. Sure enough, our team number 7871 was announced and we were being recognized as the 2019 FIRST Robotics Rookie All-Star Team, qualifying us for the World Championships to be held in Houston, Texas! Shock, disbelief, and excitement overcame us, and we were proud of what we managed to accomplish. Here are some words from our club advisor, Mr.Moraila: “I want to tell you guys how proud I am of what you were able to accomplish. You are well deserving of this award based off all the adversity you faced these past couple days. You guys learned to much from each other, from other teams, and most importantly about each other. What you guys faced is real life. Pressure. Deadlines. Collaboration”.
Although we initially had our hearts set out on making it to Houston for the Championships in April, we soon realized we would not able to afford this $15,000 trip due to our lack of funding and short deadline. We had not fundraised enough as a club for such a large trip, nor did we have access to all the tools we needed to make improvements to Mr. Scraps. Unfortunately, we did not reach our fundraising goal and saw no other option but to shift our focus to the club’s future. Having gained such a valuable experience through this competition, our club members were able to grow in a variety of skill sets from wiring and coding to networking and public relations. The undeniable benefits that Robotics Club introduced to South Gate High School has sparked a new interest in STEM among our students. We hope to once again compete in the FIRST competition and qualify for the World Championship next year.