Friday, March 30, 2018

Robots = Life Part II

Expanding on yesterday's story, in our first year of metal robotics we had an incident that ended our season at the super regional level that hurt our team deeply and taught them life isn't fair.  The local high school had two really good teams and we were all at the super region and we were winning - apparently making the seniors on that team mad that they were being shown up by the freshmen at their school on THAT new private team they had refused to talk to all year.  Without the knowledge of their coach, they conspired in a match where one was our partner and the other was against us and threw the match that we would have won if our partner hadn't refused to score and took penalties instead.  (The refs were very stupid and didn't disqualify them).  It had the intended affect of lifting them up and pushing us down but the unintended effect of while we while we went far in the eliminations and beat them soundly - we didn't get to go to Worlds (takes too long to explain).  It was a very, very stupid teenage thing to do.  And when they realized it had kicked us out of worlds - it was obvious they were mortified, upset and started to do the 'cover up' on their actions.

This could have been a very bad thing.  Two excellent teams who go to school together.  Bullying, back stabbing, espionage, etc. for years.  I had talked to their coach over the year and my gut feeling was that he was a really decent guy.  Plus it was likely that we would need him to write my son's college recommendation (he did) as we couldn't and my son would take all his AP classes.   So I called him that night and we talked.  We decided to not let this rule our teams and to take steps to correct even though we wouldn't be able to change the results.  So over the years we have made real efforts to be honest and above board with each other while being likely the best two teams in the state and going head to head at each competition.  Over time, the kids who were berated by their coach for cheating went away and our kids had made it a consistent thing to be honest and treat them with respect and friendship.

Rob with the local team in the elimination pits
going over each other's robots making sure all is well together
So the state championship was AWESOME.  The local high school team had some trouble in their matches and were very far down in the rankings but we knew they were great and clutch under pressure, but they had lost their chance to move on to Super Regionals.  We teamed with another great team for the eliminations and spent quite a bit of time convincing them to forgo the teams they were looking at for the third position and take our local high school instead.  And we were convincing!  It was so heart warming to see their captain come up after the selection in front of the stands and bear hug our captain and thank them profusely.  They now had a chance as our combined team was now a dream team.

We crushed it together as a three-some.  Missed the world record by 3 points.  We won it all and automatically all three of us advanced.  The local high school senior kids came up to us (they had been on
Our state championship trophy on Saturday.
Both my boys in that picture.
And yes there is a bigger story there -
part of a very long
one to tell later about both teams.
the original team that cost us our World advancement) and hugged everyone with tears in their eyes and thanked our kids for believing in them and making their case.

They also knew that we gave up a World Championship to be honest to them two years ago.  The 1st captain asked us to lie that our robot was broken so the local high school team (2nd captain) wouldn't pick us so we could be on their team for the eliminations (The dishonest team went on to win it all).  My son came up to me and told me.  I looked him in the eye and asked him what he chose.  He said he said no and went to the local high school team and told them it would be an honor for them to be on their alliance.  We had just started repairing our relationship with them and doing a backhanded thing would kill it.  So we teamed up with them and lost with honor.

It seems our fates are interwoven no matter what.  They were so excited to win the state championship together.  We had known what problems they were having with their robot as they could trust us to come to our booth and get the repair parts which we happily gave them.

It shows that sometimes you need to trust others and you need to stick to your morals.  All great lessons our kids have learned as I have stepped out of that role - they make the right choices naturally themselves.  And as you have recently seen in the 'snow posts', they came to work at our house (and spoiler alert - while their robot didn't do as well as normal during the competition - they made it to Worlds anyways and we were screaming and hooting for them when they did).

So this bonding makes all the more sense when you know the coach.  As I said - the stories behind the story.  Jeff is the most beloved STEM teacher in the high school where all the students go on to amazing schools and the parents are engineers from MIT.  That is a pretty hard role to be in - to gain the respect of the parents and students who know their stuff.  Jeff is laid back, terribly talented and has just the right tone with all these budding geniuses.  And his courses rock!  My son loves him.  His wife always travels with us all to these away competitions and has her service dog with her.  I had never asked her what the service he is performing but she is a really nice lady to chat with.  So it was really a surprise to learn that she and her dog were the subject of a major documentary this year.  Jeff had mentioned it during our Worlds adventure last year - so we asked more about it.

Adele was the world's first cardiac service dog - literally saving Marty's life on a daily basis from her rare heart condition.  But dogs age and Adele needed to retire.  The question was if a new dog could be found with this extraordinary skill to save Marty's life daily from the cardiac disorder and could Marty trust the dog so she could continue the new expanded life that Adele had given her.  The documentary is about this transition.  Of course Jeff takes a prominent role in the film.  Their robot team was treated to a premier of the film on the bus ride to St. Louis.  We haven't been able to get tickets as a team to the two showings locally - but it just came out on iTunes and we have a movie date for the extended teams next week to watch it together - so we understand the characters behind our biggest robot rivals and neighbors.

Documentary about the wife of Lexington High's Robotics
coach and her extraordinary service dog
I had a hilarious talk with Jeff at our qualifier a few weeks ago - the same weekend a major article about the film had come out in the Boston Globe to promote the iTunes release.  Adele still lives with them - we are more familiar with Hector, the new dog.  But once a service dog, always a service dog. They are desperate for being useful to their owner and have tons of special skills to help in the household.  Adele does laundry.  Hard to believe but yes - the dogs are trained to do things to help Marty keep upright so her blood pressure doesn't drop from leaning over and laundry is one of them.  So Jeff says that when they go out - they usually take Hector and if Adele is home alone, she starts trying to prove to them that she is still useful.  She works on the laundry, takes food from the refrigerators, turns lights on and off, etc.  Demonstrates all her skills to 'win her job back'.   Hilarious.   Jeff was telling me how exhausting it has been over the last year to be competing with and against us while going to so many film festivals and premiers of the movie.

So rent the film and watch it - especially if you like dogs!  And you will know that the life of those in the film is interwoven with mine on weekends at competitions where we share the task of teaching 70 kids between us to be good people as well as learn robotics.  

You can embroider while watching it - until the tears start to flow!

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