When Alanna Rosado was a freshman at all-girls St. Hubert High School, she learned that all-boys Father Judge welcomed Bambies to join its robotics team.
“I figured it was interesting. I never heard of a club that involved robots,” she said. “I was really fascinated with all the things I learned.”
Alanna spent two years with Judge’s robotics team. When an Archdiocese of Philadelphia blue ribbon commission recommended in January 2012 that St. Hubert close, she made plans to choose a new school, probably Little Flower.
In the end, money raised by the St. Hubert community and pledged by several wealthy individuals saved St. Hubert and the other three high schools scheduled to close. When school resumed in September, new St. Hubert president Frank Farrell established a robotics team at the school. Physics and math teacher Wayne Flood agreed to be the moderator. And Alanna was a natural choice as captain.
The year included several competitions, with the highlight being a trip to a robotics national championship competition in St. Louis hosted by a nonprofit group called FIRST— For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.
ldquo;That was amazing. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Alanna said.
Farrell is a big fan of robotics. His daughter Hannah, now a college student, participated in a robotics club at Mount St. Joseph.
“It motivates, encourages and gives them confidence to do math and science application work,” he said.
The St. Hubert robotics team received a big boost from NASA, which provided a $6,500 grant.
Providing mentorship were Hannah Farrell and Mike O’Reilly, a graduate of Somerville, N.J.’s Immaculata High School, where former St. Hubert president Sister Mary Smith serves as principal.
During the year, the BambieBotz often worked six-day weeks, staying late on weekdays and getting together on Saturdays.
After learning the basics and building a robot, the team entered a competition at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. The BambieBotz finished 13th among 32 teams.
“For a rookie team, that was very good,” said junior Maura Mullin.
Another competition followed at Seneca High School in New Jersey, with the team peaking at the Mid-Atlantic Regional at Lehigh University from April 11-13.
Teams program their robot to perform prescribed tasks. In this case, the robots needed to fire flying discs into targets that have different point values. The robots are built from a common kit of parts provided by FIRST. They typically weigh 120 to 150 pounds.
Matches last for two minutes and 15 seconds, and St. Hubert emerged as the regional champion in the Rookie All-Star division.
“We were all really shocked, happy and excited,” said junior Mary Shustack.
Then, the hard part began.
The national competition was set for April 24-27, and the BambieBotz needed to pay their way to St. Louis.
“We had a week to raise $15,000,” Maura Mullin said.
The team received plenty of help. Mid-Atlantic Robotics covered the $4,000 entry fee. The St. Hubert alumnae association donated $3,500. Others donors included Father Judge, the Major Artery Revitalization Committee, Friends to Elect Christine Tartaglione and the Northeast Optimist Club. The girls held a bake sale and made pleas through Facebook and Twitter.
The final tally was $16,500, with the extra $1,500 to be used for next year’s team.
“We pulled through like we saved the school,” said junior Cortney Schaaf. “We had family, friends and people we didn’t even know donating.”
A dozen girls — 11 juniors and a freshman — made the trip to St. Louis. They were joined by Flood, O’Reilly, Frank and Hannah Farrell and the mother of a team member. They shared a bus with Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.
Among 105 schools, St. Hubert placed 69th. The BambieBotz were fourth among rookie teams.
“The girls learned so much more in four days than they could ever get from an individual competition,” Frank Farrell said.
Flood was impressed with how the first year went and is looking forward to the second. He noted that the girls had to apply math formulas, use tools, raise money, obtain aluminum and convert a classroom into a workshop.
“It was a little bit of everything,” he said. “The kids get a lot out of it. It’s really hands on. It’s hard to put the parts together, especially if you’ve never operated a saw or drill. It was nice for them to see how it all comes together. And we want to sustain it.”
FIRST began modestly in 1989. The Manchester-based group held its first competition in 1992, when 28 teams gathered in a New Hampshire high school gym. Many Fortune 500 companies now donate to FIRST, which has grown tremendously in the last two decades.
The most recent competition attracted about 10,000 students ages 6-18 from 37 countries. The venue was the Edward Jones Dome, home of the St. Louis Rams football team.
“It was so much fun at the competition. Everybody was so pumped up,” said junior Caitlin Conn.
“It was four times the size of any other competition we were in,” Maura Mullin said. “At the competition, everybody helped each other.”
Next year, the BambieBotz members are looking forward to having a robotics class taught by Flood. Mary Shustack said Flood is a good motivator and that the class will help build the team.
“Robotics teaches you wiring, programming and how to work with people,” she said. “We learned a lot and want to get back to Missouri.”
The BambieBotz were buoyed by the experience and are looking forward to another good year of competition.
“I loved it,” Cortney Schaaf said. “Some of the teams go all out. We were all rooting each other on. I was amazed how good some of the robots are. That gave us a lot of pointers for next year. We want to be bigger and better.” ••