Glencoe robotics fifth in the world
Not for the first time, Glencoe High School students have come home winners.
Students from Glencoe's Shockwave robotics team are back in Oregon this week after competing in the world championships of robotics, held in Houston, Texas, where the team placed fifth in the world.
"It's hard to find the words to describe it," said Glencoe's head coach Willie Tenca. "We were crying. Everyone was crying ... It is a strange feeling, like a dream ... It is amazing."
The competition was the Super Bowl, of sorts, for FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — a nonprofit that offers robotics competitions to middle and high school students across the globe.
Formed in 1989 to get kids interested in robotics, the organization touts itself as the "largest celebration of science, technology, engineering, and math for students" in the world.
The competition is similar to any other sporting event students might attend, but played with robots instead of athletes.
Students were tasked with building bots that could move on their own, stack blocks onto large scales and score points.
Competing against other teams, students had only a few minutes to score as many points as possible to win their matches.
After qualifying in the Portland regional competition last month, Shockwave students headed to Texas, alongside more than 15,000 other students from 43 countries in order to compete in the four-day event.
This wasn't Glencoe's first time at the championships, said Jean Tenca, Shockwave's head mentor, but this year marks the first time the team has made it to the final round of competition, known as "Einstein."
"I'm proud to say that our robotics team has made it to worlds every year since its founding (in 2013) and I'm very, very proud of that because it's not easy to do," Jean Tenca said. "There are a lot of good teams in the area that don't make it."
After a shaky start, Tenca and the students were worried about the team's fate, but ended up taking fourth place in their division, moving on to the final round, a big moment in the team's history, Jean Tenca said.
"After that, winning our division was just a huge turnaround," he said. "It was completely unexpected."
Jean Tenca described it as a feeling of "absolute disbelief (and) absolute joy."
"The entire team has been working so hard, more this year than ever previously," he said. "It's something that we consider to be a huge accomplishment for the program."
Team member Anna Meneely was in tears when she and the team found out they had made it to the finals.
"It was amazing," she said. "We are very proud and very much excited."
Meneely has been with team Shockwave the past three years, though she attends crosstown rival Liberty High.
"After seeing one of (the team's) demonstrations they did with the robot at OMSI, I was completely in love with the team and the robots by that point," Meneely said. "So I reached out to Glencoe and asked if I could join, and they said yes."
The competition wrapped up April 21, but Meneely said she'll carry memories from the competition with her forever.
"It's such a unique experience to be able to meet with people and teams around the world that you could've never really met and interacted (with) in a normal setting in school," Meneely said. "It provides a really unique perspective and interaction with people."
Students had to fundraise, as well as design, program and build the robots in only a few short weeks before competitions began. Students didn't learn what the challenge would be for this year's competition until January.
Being a part of the robotics team is no small commitment, Meneely said. The team meets daily, with a minimum of 24 hours of practice each week. The students average 250 hours of practice every season, Meneely said, and the mentors average even more.
This year's team boasted 36 students and 17 mentors. The mentors come from across the city, devoting a lot of time to a hobby they share with the students.
"I have a full time job as an engineer, and so do a lot of the mentors," Tenca laughed, "so we leave our jobs and go to the school to continue our very intense hobby."