LHS Robotics Team Wins Chairman’s Award, Advances to Districts

Londonderry High School’s FIRST Robotics team will advance to the New England Championship, after earning the Chairman’s Award at the FIRST Robotics District event, held at the University of New Hampshire last weekend.

The Chairman’s Award, the most prestigious FIRST award a team can earn, honors the team that best represents a model for other teams to emulate, and embodies the purpose and goals of FIRST.

“The Chairman’s Award doesn’t really honor the robot, it honors the team for their activities in representing the ideals of FIRST, such as outreach in the community and getting other people interested in FIRST,” said Mike Pettengill, who has been coaching Londonderry’s team for 13 years. “It’s more of an overall team performance award.”

Pettengill notes FIRST “isn’t all about building robots, it’s just a vehicle for getting there.”

FIRST is an acronym of: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

There are approximately 175 teams in the New England Championship, set for April 8-11.

Londonderry’s team, the LHS PVC Pirates, will compete for the Chairman’s Award, an invitation to the World Championship in St. Louis, Mo., from April 22-25.

At the District competition, which was held March 21 at the Whittemore Center on the UNH campus, the PVC Pirates presented to judges about the team’s efforts to promote the purpose and goals of FIRST.

The team hosts an annual event at the Pheasant Lane Mall, which they call the Robo Expo; they hosted a FIRST LEGO League (FLL) qualifier event at the middle school; and they attend FIRST Night in Boston and the Robo Zoo in Cambridge, Mass.

“Presenting to the judges, it’s cool to see all that work shown off. All the effort, setting up the events and speaking with all the kids really pays off,” said Team Captain Jaye O’Donnell, noting it’s rewarding to see the impact their events have on the young people who attend them.

Teams that participated in the PVC Pirates’ FLL qualifier event at the middle school said it was the best they had ever attended; and the team is in the process of forming a partnership with Simon Malls to make their annual event available to other teams nationwide as part of their efforts to promote FIRST, according to Pettengill.

“We’re putting together a how-to book and website that other teams around the country could use to plan the event. Teams will be able to plug in their address on the website and it will show them Simon Malls in the area where they could hold the event,” he said. The PVC Pirates also mentor FLL teams.

O’Donnell said the judges seemed impressed that the team takes their robot to their annual Robo Expo at the mall, and that they’re trying to expand the event to other teams in malls around the country.

Team members Alex Peterson, Tiffany Miller, and Kelly Plakyda presented to the judges at the District competition.

Other team members include Erin Janas, Luc Velie, Justin Lagree, Chris Monk, Abraham Gable, Ryan Leo, Tim Meuse, Jonathon Burpeau, Dave Lawton, Caleb McCune, Noah Carrey, Mike Agostino, Dan Pleva, Julia Turk, Evan Plevinsky, Nate Robillard, Spenser Kutney, Karamel Quitayen, Chase L’Heurux, Seamus Rioux, Yuly Cabeza, Becca Fondo, Emily Dawson, Alex Ashman, and Sarah Moriarty.

“I think we have a good chance of moving on with a Chairman’s Award, or by getting enough points from our robot competing in matches,” said O’Donnell, whose team earned the Chairman’s Award his freshman year.

The team hopes the efforts will earn them one of four Chairman’s Awards at the District Championship for an opportunity to compete at the World Championship.

“We’re pushing hard for that one,” Pettengill said, noting the team last competed in the World Championship in 2010.

The team invested hundreds of hours of work just to put on the FLL qualifier event at the middle school.

“It’s a huge amount of work, and to me that’s what it’s all about,” Pettengill said. “And to see kids who come into the program with no clue what they want to do and leave with skills they can use for the rest of their life and find a direction, whether they want to be engineers or businessman. It gives student the opportunity to put their education to work in real world situations.”

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