Monday, December 10, 2018

A World's Documentary

2 Bits and a Byte in our basement working during spring break
before we all left for Detroit
In the most amazing twist of fate, the two teams whose fates had been intertwined for so many years - us and our local high school -were getting ready to go to Worlds, we were doing a lot of work together.  Our local high school team, 2 Bit and a Byte were using our field for changes as it was spring break and the school was closed.  The captain then told us he was going to do his school project for a film class as a documentary of their Worlds trip.

So imagine this - our fates have been linked for years.  They carry our stuff to the Worlds on their bus every year.  And we will win the World Championship and our friends are making a documentary for school!

David working in the Marriot ballroom
on our mini station - we have to move
that 200 pound cart of tools and robot around
everywhere we go.
Well - you will have to watch it as well, we show up in it quite a bit.  It is a great record of not just what happened but what the experience feels like for these teams.  You can see the work in the hotels, the boring travel, the affection between teams, and how big this is.  The world championship is played in the Lions stadium and the Astros park.  And there are 30,000-40,000 spectators, jumbo trons and news crews.  That is pressure for these kids.

All these top teams in the ballroom late into the night every
night of competition
The booth - we have always been low key, focusing on the
work instead of decorations
There are more back stories to this video - moments not captured.  How every night after competition the teams go back to the hotels, eat fast and start working.  Often you bring your field if you can get the hotel to rent you a conference room.   If you get one, you often invite teams that might be advantageous to you to come and work in your room.  The three MA teams have been helping each other like that for years.  This time, we were downtown across from the venue so they were far away and a Pennsylvania team called BrainStem had a ballroom at the Marriot and was having all the top teams come to use it with them.  They ran a mini-competition every night between the two divisions which no one was allowed to film.  A lot happened in that room at night and it was exhausting.

Our animal costumes
Our booth was decorated with a cute display of team photos from all the years and one of every one of August's T-shirts through the years.  Kinda nostalgic.  The kids had always been the least 'decorated' kids out there, preferring to stay focused instead of doing costumes and crazy hats which are encouraged in FIRST.  But this was it and so they decided to buy animal onezees and dress up for Worlds.  They competed several days in them and I loved that they were trying to add some enjoyment and soak up the last feelings of their FIRST adventure.

The Lexington MA team and Lincoln MA team we had competed with so fiercely and friendly for four years were in our division - and while they would be continuing on, we were retiring.  Amazingly we had one match together.  Us against them as a combined team.  Before a match, the
The goodbye hugs that interrupted the
competition flow.  What a moment.
announcer introduces the teams quickly and then they go 'Red alliance ready (thumbs up), Blue alliance ready (thumbs up) and then count down and go.  But this match was different and we were so stunned that we had to borrow the only pictures anyone got of what happened.  As soon as the announcement of teams started - their side put down their equipment and walked around the field and individually hugged each of our kids goodbye in a show of three way respect.  It stunned the audience of 5000 and the announcer.  I don't know what to say other than it was an amazing moment.

We went undefeated - it was mindblowing.  That meant we would be the #1 captain and could pick two teams to be our partners having the 1st and 5th choice.  As soon as it starts to become clear you will be a captain, teams come around and start promoting their team and trying to show their robots capabilities.  There is so much to this 'dating'.  As the final choices are early the last morning, you have all night to talk to teams and maybe work together to see how your robots perform.  So it is super stressful for both sides.  You are trying to look at film to see if their claims are true, figure out what capabilities you need in a partner set and do you work well together - i.e. will they follow directions.  You need to have several back-ups because the other captains might choose your choice before you get to the 5th pick.  So this goes on all night.  Our guys had evaluated many teams and had given suggestions to several to improve their performance - mostly centered around the electrostatic discharge to their robots which would temporarily or permanently disable the bot during a match.  That happens and your team will likely loose the match.  We had distinguished ourselves by mastering the electrical system and this problem so the kids went around to their potential partners and told them what to fix that night.  Next morning at 7am, they would meet all of them on the practice fields and put them through testing.  This testing consists of us driving around a lot and building up charge and going over to touch their robot and see if it stops running after being zapped.  Some teams follow directions - the Lexington team facetimed David at midnight running around the hotel in celebration of the fix he had suggested working.  When you see the video of the kid in the elevator exhausted thinking they might not play that day - that was the next morning as we hadn't committed at midnight.  We were still keeping our cards close to the chest.

These away competitions go either 3 or 5 days and so the last night when the stress of the last day is upon all their shoulders, I give a speech at a big dinner to remind them of why we do this and what they mean to each other.  It centers them.  Last year, the seniors gave tear-inducing speeches in return.  So the pressure was on and we actually recorded the kids doing it in Detroit.  No dry eyes - my husband was brought to tears by one boy who described finding us and what that meant to him and said "it wouldn't be a surprise to anyone that I wasn't a winner in Middle School, and you turned me into one".

Some teams tried to suggest a old trick that had been pulled on us two years - say you are broken so no one will pick you and then let the team you want pick you.  Very dirty.  Our guy refused when a team suggested it - the kid said 'you mean you would rather loose (thinking that they were the best choice) than do this?'.  Our kid said "Yes, and we have lost before and are fine with it".  We obviously didn't pick them.
Andy running this field and evaluating
teams as potential partners.  Must have been
hard for those guys to take this little kid
giving them the once over and doing
what he asked them to show.

When I arrived that morning at 7:30 am to the convention center - each one of my top drive team had a practice field with teams running around trying out their changes.  This picture of my 7th grader made me laugh.  You can tell he is holding the cards and is seriously evaluating that team of 17yr olds.

So we choose the BrainStem team from PA as our #1 choice and were thrilled when the Lexington team was available to us at #5 pick.  They were loosing hope that they would be picked and absolutely freaked out in the stands.  Our fates were now combined yet again.  And remember - it was a choice to hate each other or let bygones be bygones.  It was the right choice.

A story for the ages.

More tomorrow about the backstory of the event finals.  What made the difference.

1 comment:

  1. Wow - this has been so interesting to follow! I can't wait to read the next instalment! It certainly all brings a tear to the eye.