If if it takes a village to raise a child, It takes teamwork and cooperation to build a yoga-ball pitching robot — and a legion of dedicated volunteers who devoted hours to the project.
Southold’s Team Rice 870, a robotics club that scored big points in recent competitions this year, came before the Southold Union Free School District’s BOE on Wednesday night for a demonstation.
Phil Caputo, head robotics advisor, who leads the team with Jason Wesnofske, said the students not only came in third at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, or RPI, in Troy, but took fifth place at a Hofstra competition — and at Hofstra, the team was in first place overall coming into the finals, with teammate Katie Krakowski winning the competition’s MVP award out of 2,000 entrants.
“This club and team has gone above and beyond my expectations,” said Caputo. “They learned hands on, everything from building robots to managing the budget given to our team by the school board — and they’ve passed these skills down to freshman and sophomores.”
Both students Michael Schade and Dylan Stromski discussed how the team has helped build the foundation for their futures.
“Sadly, this is my last year,” Schade said. “I started this in seventh grade and never knew I’d be where I am today. I’m going to RIT for engineering to learn to be a computer security major, all thanks to this club, which has taught me more than I could have ever imagined. It took all the math and things you think you’ll never use in the classroom and brought it all to life.”
The team, Stromksi said, has helped spark his dreams. “It’s about teaching life lessons and skills to whoever comes on the team. It’s gotten me and other seniors like myself who are pursuing futures in engineering, math or science inspired — we’re so into hands on design and building everything, and now, that’s what I want to do in the future.”
Stromski also thanked the board of education and the mentors that worked late into the night to help the team build their robot.
Southold Superintendent David Gamberg said the dedication shown by students was “incredible,” and said they also juggle other extracurricular activities and sports with schoolwork, volunteering and jobs. “It’s just incredible.”
BOE president Paulette Ofrias said the public also needed to know how much work went into building the robot, and that all the students receive is a kit — with dreams and perseverance needed to construct the actual robot. “It didn’t come like that,” she said. “They’re not giving themselves enough credit.”
Caputo said each year, the club begins with a kick-off event in January, and after that, students are given six weeks to build the robot. “Kids are meeting every day, prototyping — it’s trial and error. Ultimately, we come up with a final result.”
A parent in the audience noted that the team is about not only assembling their own robot, but about helping other teams in the pit, “trying to get them a functioning robot so they can essentially come and try to beat you.”
“It’s the most unique cooper-tition,” Gamberg said; the spirit of helping others, he said, is critical moving into the future.