In just their third year of building robots, the Half Hollow Hills ThunderColts bested 64 other high school teams to win the coveted Xerox Engineering Design “Creativity Award” at the Virginia Regiona lFirst Robotics Competition in Richmond on March 15.
The ecstatic team also placed in the quarterfinals of the tournament, ultimately losing to the alliance that went on to place second in the event.
“Being able to go onto the field before thousands of people and prove that as a third-year team we could be sosuccessful was truly one of the greatest feelings,” said Abhijith Kudaravalli, of Dix Hills, the team president and a senior at High School West.
The competition required high school teams to build a robot that could climb a three-tier tower and/or shoot Frisbee-like discs into a target from the ground. The 2013 FIRST Robotics challenge, called “Ultimate Ascent,” was announced via NASA satellite broadcast nationwide on Jan. 5, and teams had just over six weeks to construct theirmachine before locking it away until competition.
Students from the district’s combined HS East and West team worked five nights a week and Saturdays, eating meals at school Fridays and Saturdays so they could keep working until the deadline at midnight Feb. 19.
In Virginia, HHH’s robot was the only robot of the 65 teams to climb the entire three-tiers, to the amazement andadmiration of competitors from Virginia, N.J., Conn., Md., South Carolina and N.Y., including two other Long Island teams.
The achievement also impressed the judges who awarded the engineering design prize to the team. The 14 students in attendance and their mentors were invited to the floor of the arena to high-five judges from companies such as Northrup-Grumman, Bechtel and Lockheed Martin. Announcers joked the team had learned it can literally be “lonely at the top.”
The ThunderColts were selected in the first round of drafting for the eight-alliance finals, the first time the team hasmade it that far in a regional competition. The team will compete again April 4 to 6 at the Long Island Regional at Hofstra University, and hopes to win the event, qualifying the team to earn its second trip to nationals in St. Louis at the end of April.
The team won the Rookie All-Star Award in its inaugural 2011 season, qualifying them for a trip to Nationals. The ThunderColts, with 53 registered students, are led by advisors Julian Aptowitz and Christian Mirchel, science teachers at High School West, and aided by parent-engineers Yuri Wolf-Sonkin, Babu Kudaravalli, and Frank Calascione, all of whom have sons on the team.
This year, the team was greatly aided by a $25,000 grant from the Science Academy at Park Shore Day Camp and a $1,500 grant from BAE Systems.
Article and photos courtesy of Half Hollow Hills Schools.