BURRILLVILLE – It’s an award given to a robotics team that should serve as a role model for others, a top contender that also displays “gracious professionalism.”
And at a New England Institute of Technology competition on Saturday, Jan. 4, it was given to Burrillville High School’s team 154 Renegade.
The team of students in grades 9-12 was named the winner of the FIRST Tech Challenge Inspire Award, after a day of tough competitions that saw 154 Renegade end with a second seed finish. The event serves as a qualifier for the state robotics championship, where the students will now compete on Saturday, Feb. 8.
“This is the highest honor given to any FIRST Tech Challenge Team,” explained BHS Robotics Advisor Andy Aldrich.
“For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” is an international organization that aims to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders by engaging them in programs that build the skills. At the competitions, students are asked to design, build, program and redesign as needed, a robot capable of playing a difficult field game against other robots.
While teams work to qualify for the state championship, FIRST puts the emphasis not just on winning, but on learning new skills and working as a team. Over 50 Rhode Island teams were involved in FIRST Robotics last season.
Judging awards are handed out following the qualifying competitions, and this year, Renegade was mentioned as a runner up in nearly every category.
“When it came time for the final award, the Inspire Award, we held our breath,” said Aldrich. “We could not believe what we heard. We were all filled with emotion and excitement.”
The award is given to the team that “truly embodied the challenge of the FTC program,” and “is an inspiration to other teams, acting with gracious professionalism both on and off the playing field.”
“This team understands how to communicate their experiences and knowledge to other teams, sponsors, and the judges,” notes a write-up on the honor.
“The Inspire Award is one of the highest honors for a Robotics Team,” said Supt. Michael Sollitto of the win. “We are thrilled that the Renegade team was recognized with this award as it signifies that the team is an inspiration and role model for all robotic teams.”
Teams from Burrillville High School have seen plenty of success at past competitions. Since the school’s robotics program was launched in 2006, the students have won 11 state titles. The 2019 competition saw BHS with a loss in the qualifying round.
Last year, the robotics program was extended to the district’s elementary schools, thanks in part to grants from the Rhode Island Foundation.
Students from the team, who typically take part in the high school Engineering Pathway, helped to lead younger scholars from Callahan and Steere Farm Elementary through a six-week program with the help of faculty advisors.
The group created a game called “Operation Clean Sweep,” based on the idea that students had three minutes to clean up their rooms before their parents came to check on them. At a district championship at Burrillville High School last April, robots had to put “trash” in a trash bin to score points. Two teams from Steere Farm took 2nd and 3rd place, while a team from Callahan was declared the winner.
“Everyone is looking forward to the second year of elementary robotics, which should be taking place within the next few months,” said Aldrich.
The advisor noted that a grant from Friendly Nursing Home recently allowed the district to purchase “Code-a-pillar” robots for the kindergarten students at A.T. Levy School.
While students on Renegade are typically in the BHS Engineering Pathway, Aldrich noted that it is not a requirement.
“To be on the team, you need a mind that is willing to learn,” he said. “You also need to be willing to try new things, and believe that you can accomplish more than you ever thought you could. Students on the team reach far beyond what the typical high school day requires.”
The FIRST Tech Challenge Rhode Island championship will be held at NEIT Automotive Campus in Warwick on Saturday, Feb. 8.