Last month I had the opportunity to drive half of Tre's school robotics team to the State competition. Now, lest you think the word choice "opportunity" sounded a little sarcastic, I was really happy to be going. Tre has been completely obsessed with robotics for his entire high school career, and it's actually guided him in what college he chose. It's been pretty important, is what I'm saying. And I was aware that this competition could very well be his last high school robotics competition ever, which seems both impossible and sad.
Tre and I stumbled out of the house in the early, dark, bitterly cold morning. We drove to the school in silence. Not even the excitement of the competition could override our shared lack of enthusiasm at morning. Plus, after picking up the others at school, we had another hour's drive ahead of us. Hard to get worked up over all that.
We arrived at the school and made our way through dark, empty hallways to the robotics room. What is creepier than a quiet, dark high school hallway? The rest of the team was in the robotics room, packing the robot and its accessories into plastic bins. When I walked in the room, I was struck full in the face by a wall of air. Air that had not moved out of that room all school year long. Air that held the smell of teen aged boys who had logged hours in that room, had stressed and worked and argued and triumphed and eaten obscene amounts of junk food. Air with TEXTURE.
There are no girls on this robotics team. In case that wasn't obvious.
They got it all loaded, the other adults arrived, and we left. When we arrived at the school gym that would be my home for the day, I sat down on the bleachers to judge the level of comfort they'd offer. They seemed to have been designed for maximum pain. Nice. Plus, I was so so so sick that day, drowning inside my own head. This was going to be a long day.
Except you know what? It wasn't. It was THRILLING. These boys? This team of boys, from the mean streets of Aurora? This little, underfunded, ridiculously disorganized robotics team that began four years ago with the tiniest, most pitiful little robot?
They were AMAZING. In this robotics league, they are partnered up with an alliance team for each match. More than once, their alliance's robot stopped working, and they went on to single-robotedly defeat BOTH other teams.
I wish I could really explain how many hours these kids spent working on their robot. Since September, it's been like a part time job for them. After school nearly every day. Saturdays. Fall break. Winter break. These boys were there, in that little, airless room, crafting their robot. And it was beautiful.
In statewide competitions like this (they'd already been through Regionals, so these were the top teams in the state), you can't always clearly pick out the very best. There are lots of different strengths used in different ways, and the competition is close and hard fought. But this day, our boys swept the field. It was beautiful.
And they won, you guys. They took first place in State, and for the first time in their high school robotics career, they were headed to Super Regionals. In California.
Now, you know I could draw this story out for another 600 words or so, right? I could describe the texts from Tre, updating me after every match, the roller coaster of emotions, the constant recalculations on where they were in the standings? But I'll cut to the chase. This was Super Regionals. The best of the best. They did not dominate, like they did at State.
But they did final.
And they are going to the World Championships this month.
It's like Hoosiers, you guys, but with robots. You should be standing up and screaming. I'm crying right now, a little.
But I'm also complaining a little, because this is a big deal. A huge accomplishment. But because it's not basketball or football or some other sort of ball, people don't really care. I think this is news, a great honor for the state, but no one really cares.
The boys have to build a new robot for World. And their school has been as supportive as they can afford to be, paying for new parts for the robot. But that doesn't cover travel costs, or slick 3D printers like other teams have. I was going to drive them to World, but I'd have to pay for my own hotel room, and that's not doable right now.
These kids, right here? They're amazing. They deserve it all. And I wish I could give it to them.
I don't suppose I should let that bother me. They'll figure it out.