By Kate McCullough Spectator Reporter
With a 120-pound robot in tow, a team of Hamilton students returned home Monday after competing in the robotics world championships in Houston, Texas.
Team 2056 didn’t win the annual FIRST Robotics World Championship, which was cancelled for two years amid the pandemic. But after two competition-less years and a late start to the season, the Orchard Park Secondary School robotics team considers a spot in the playoffs a huge success.
“The accomplishments, considering COVID, were amazing,” coach Stan Hunter told The Spectator.
The Hamilton team competed with more than 450 schools from around the world in the three-day event, and were selected for the division playoffs on Saturday.
The Stoney Creek team lost in the semifinals.
“Worlds was one of the best experiences of my life,” robot driver Caleb Spears, 17, said in an email. “We gave every match everything that we could.”
The week before, the team won the Ontario provincial championships on April 16 — a welcome win after a “tough start” to the season, said robot operator Vanshika Bhatia, emailing from a bus returning from Houston.
“We missed out on four weeks of the build season, because all in-person extracurricular activities in all schools were cancelled,” said Vanshika, 17, adding that the team met online regularly to talk design. “Once we came back to school we hit the ground running and built our 2022 robot.”
For the competition, the robot had to shoot cargo — oversized tennis balls — into the goal to score points. Teams can also be awarded points for making the robot hang on a set of monkey bars.
Several Grade 12 students told The Spectator they were grateful to make it to an international competition, which drew a crowd of about 30,000, before they graduated.
“For many of us on the team, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Vanshika said.
Eight other Ontario teams, including Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School’s Celt-X, also competed in Houston. The Mountain school placed sixth in its division during qualifying matches, also finishing in the semifinals.
“Our team is extremely proud of all that our students have accomplished this year and are certain that these experiences will remain with them for a lifetime,” coach Chris Pinto said in an email.
Hunter said students in Ontario, where schools were closed longer than other North American jurisdictions, were at a disadvantage.
“The ability for us to compete at the level that the U.S. schools were is phenomenal,” he said. “They’ve had hands on robots a lot more than we have … in Ontario because of restrictions.”