Community support has helped lift Southold’s award-winning robotics team to success since its founding in 2002 and last night that support was on display at the American Legion Hall: in the dozens of donated prizes for a chinese auction, in the long list of local business sponsors printed on paper placemats, and in the happy faces of residents of all ages who filled the hall for a spaghetti dinner cooked by Southold Fire Department volunteers and dished out by RICE Team 870 members.
“This community has been fabulous with its support,” said team mentor Bob Gammon. The team raises about half of its $40,000 annual budget from community donations, he said. “The local merchants have been just wonderful.”
Southold High School, with a student body of roughly 250, is pitted against schools many times its size in competitions that draw entrants from all over the world.
“Some of the teams we’re up against have sponsors like Boeing,” Gammon said.
But Southold’s RICE Team 870 consistently brings home awards, starting with its first season, when it won the Rookie All Star award. That honor was followed by many others, including two regional titles and a host of other awards for quality, creativity, engineering and design excellence.
The competitions are run by FIRST (“For Inspiration And Recognition of Science And Technology”), a New Hampshire-based nonprofit founded in 1989 with a mission of inspiring young people’s interest in science and technology. Today, FIRST competitions draw more than 250,000 contestants.
Southold’s team was founded by former faculty member Tony Kryll, who came up with the Team 870’s nickname, RICE. It’s an acronym for the motto “Respect, Impulse-Control, Compassion, and Equity,” which Kryll taught were the ingredients for success.
“The program is a great cross-section of kids,” Gammon said, “from varsity lettermen to kids who are not sure where they fit in. That’s because there is something for everyone, no matter what their interests are. It’s not just for kids who like turning wrenches. Kids who are into music, design, web development, writing business plans, developing strategy, all sorts of things.” This year, there are about 35 kids involved, he said.
“It’s really an amazing program,” agreed team mentor Chris Schade, who is also a math teacher at Southold. Both Schade and Gammon have sons on the team.
About 200 people turned out for last night’s spaghetti dinner, event organizer Barbara Poliwoda said. She expressed appreciation for the outpouring of support from all parts of the community. A group of volunteer firefighters from Southold Fire Department ran the kitchen, she said. The vols cooked up 42 pounds of spaghetti, said fire department chaplain Joe McCarthy, who organized the kitchen crew.
Also on hand last night was the robot RICE Team 870 built for last year’s competition, “Recycle Rush.” Designed and built to stack recycle bins, the robot has been repurposed to be “sort of a Zamboni for the basketball court,” Gammon said. Fitted with a wide dust mop and T-shirt shooters, it cruises court during home games and shoots T-shirts into the stands, displaying the names of RICE Team 870’s sponsors on a colorful scroller.
“It’s really something that a school this small can have a program this big, this successful and this well-supported by a small-town business community,” Gammon said.
RICE Team 870 is headed to the Buckeye Regional Competition in Cleveland, Ohio March 17-20, followed by the Long Island regional meet at Hofstra University at the end of March. Team members are currently busy on building a robot for the game “Stronghold,” described on the RICE Team 870 website as “a point action game involving two teams fighting for the win. Each team infiltrates their opponent’s side by conquering audience-chosen barricades. This year, points can be acquired by shooting “boulders”into the tower, pushing them into lower passages, or scaling our opponent’s tower during the final seconds.”