Traveling to national competition in Florida can be an expensive proposition.
By SUSAN BERLIN
Three area schools are racing to get their robot entries ready to ship by Feb. 19 to the regional FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology) robotics competition.
Girard, Warren Harding and Chaney high schools will compete against 58 teams in Cleveland on March 14-16.
A team must qualify in at least one regional event to be able to move on to the FIRST finals at EPCOT Center at Disney World in Florida.
Local teams will also attend regional events in Ypsilanti, Mich., and Toronto, Canada.
This year's main sponsors are the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and, locally, the General Motors Lordstown complex and Delphi Packard Electric Systems of Warren.
After an entry fee of $5,000 is paid, FIRST provides two 30-gallon storage containers and one cardboard box of electrical parts as the basic puzzle pieces teams are using in creating their robots.
Requirements: This year's entries must grab a soccer-size ball, maneuver it into the goal area and position itself into a point-scoring area.
Dimensions of the robot must not exceed 30 inches wide, 36 inches long and 60 inches high and it may not weigh more than 130 pounds.
Teams do not have to use all kit parts. They can supplement them with items from specified vendors, but no parts from previous competitions may be used this year as in past years.
FIRST was founded by inventor Dean Kamen and is supported by numerous Fortune 500 companies.
The program hopes to bring science and math students the enthusiasm and self-assurance usually associated only with athletics.
Participating students learn skills such as build and design, animation, public relations, inventing and fund raising.
Third-year participants, the Robocats from Girard High School, has 34 members. Eighteen are returnees from last year's team.
"It takes two to three thousand dollars to send a kid to the competitions," said teacherJudy Barber-Choby, the Girard team adviser.
Raising funds: Students are expected to contribute $800 toward their travel expenses but may earn some of the money by conducting fund-raisers. Girard's next even is a prom/teen fashion show at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. March 17 at Avalon Inn in Howland.
Matt Stevens, in his third year with the team, is in charge of the team's Web site, www.team379.com.
Another member, Priscilla Roman, is video-editing the Robocats' effort for a spot on MTV.
Their daily video program can be viewed at www.realroboticsonline.com.
Matt Worley and Chris Simeone also are returning this year to work on the animation competition. The animation team uses computer programs to create a 30-second animation depicting what FIRST competition means to them.
Warren Harding's DelphiELITE, meanwhile, is the area's largest team with 76 members, including 30 returnees.
Fifth round: This is the squad's fifth competition year. Delphi Packard Electric Systems in Warren is the ELITE's main sponsor, providing money and a professional support team led by Mike Allendar.
ELITE is the only local team re-creating a playing field to FIRST specifications for its robot "Xtremachen 5."
This year's 48-by-24-foot field can be seen in the high school's small gym.
Ohio and western Pennsylvania teams are invited to unofficial practice skirmishes Feb. 16, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The skirmishes are open to the public.
The field is also used by the Girard and Chaney teams to test their robots.
Harding adviser Chris Neifer said the cost of sending a team to the EPCOT center is close to $35,000 and members of Harding's traveling team will be determined by academic standing and "productive attendance" at practice and work sessions.
Estimating budget: Neifer said Harding's total budget this year is "probably about $100,000." Students pay individual activity fees of $150 but can also work part of the fee off by participating in fund-raising events. The student-paid fee is used solely for the individuals' traveling expenses.
Harding's team is selling sub sandwiches for Super Bowl Sunday. Orders are being taken until Friday. Call Neifer at (330) 307-4570 to place an order.
Chaney has named its entry this year "Mad Cow," an offshoot of its team name, Mad Cow Engineers. Chaney has 32 team members and is competing for the fourth time.
Youngstown State University students Nick Bodak, Jarod Orr and Matt Gay are previous Mad Cow members who offer volunteer help.
Chaney adviser Steve Pusztay points out that to encourage teamwork and nonviolent competition, FIRST makes impromptu alliances and even exchanges opposing teams' scores.
"You want the other team to score well; just one point less than you," he said.
YSU, Youngstown City Council and the board of education help sponsor Mad Cow Engineers.
Its next fund-raiser is an arts and craft show from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 16 in St. Anne Church.