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Building a Champion

The Pascack Pi-oneers will compete at the Festival of Champions and Indiana Robotics Invitational this summer after winning FIRST Robotics World Championship in April

Carlie+Rein+poses+with+supervisor+Mr.+Kevin+Killian+and+an+award.+Rein+is+a+co-CEO+of+the+Pascack+Pi-oneers+robotics+team.
Carlie Rein poses with supervisor Mr. Kevin Killian and an award. Rein is a co-CEO of the Pascack Pi-oneers robotics team.

Carlie Rein poses with supervisor Mr. Kevin Killian and an award. Rein is a co-CEO of the Pascack Pi-oneers robotics team.

Contributed by Mr. Kevin Killian

Contributed by Mr. Kevin Killian

Carlie Rein poses with supervisor Mr. Kevin Killian and an award. Rein is a co-CEO of the Pascack Pi-oneers robotics team.

Jamie Ryu, Staff Editor

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While most of the school is winding down, the Pascack Pi-oneers are gearing up for a busy summer.

The Pascack Valley Regional High School District’s Robotics team, the Pi-oneers, are headed to the FIRST Festival of Champions in New Hampshire on July 28 and 29, as well as the Indiana Robotics Invitational on July 14 and 15.

Contributed by Mr. Kevin Killian
The robotics team poses with their medals and banners from the St. Louis Championships in front of Pascack Hills High School. They are part of the winning alliance from the 2017 FIRST Robotics World Championships.

They’re also working with the New Jersey Department of Education in order to bring STEM—or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—to other school districts in the state. They were given a grant for $15,000 to start and fund four FIRST Tech Challenge Teams in schools in Woodridge, Wallington, Becton, and Lodi, with the grant sustaining the teams for about two years.

Their busy summer comes courtesy of their win at the FIRST Robotics World Championship in St. Louis on Saturday, April 29, in alliance with three other teams. The Pi-oneers (Team 1676) now share the title of St. Louis World Champions with Stryke Force (Team 2767), The Cheesy Poofs (Team 254), and Lightning Robotics (Team 862). The Pi-oneers were also the recipients of the Entrepreneurship Award in the Archimedes and Daly Divisions and were named among the top three in their division for safety.

“It’s so rare to make it to [the finals], let alone win,” said Carlie Rein, co-CEO and mechanical sub-team leader of the Pi-oneers. “It’s such a small, elite club. There are teams that always make it, but for us it was unbelievable. It was a really great weekend.”

FIRST, which stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” was founded in 1989 and aims to “inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and innovators, by engaging them in exciting Mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership,” according to their website.

“The whole thing about FIRST is working in teams. It’s  ‘coopertition’,” Rein said.

“Coopertition” is a term trademarked by FIRST and is defined as “displaying unqualified kindness and respect in the face of fierce competition.”

Contributed by Mr. Kevin Killian
The Pascack Pi-oneer’s robot climbing a rope on the field. All participating teams had six weeks to build their robots.

FIRST has run their FIRST Robotics Competition, an international competition for high schools, since 1992. According to the FIRST website, it aims to combine the “excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology.” Every year, registered teams are given six weeks to create a robot designed to fit the given criteria for the season. Currently, over 3,000 teams are registered to participate.

FIRST has grown exponentially,” Rein said. “There are so many teams that they had to split [the championship] up.”

In order to accommodate the growing number of teams in FIRST, there was a world championship in Houston as well as in St. Louis. The Houston World Champions are the Greybots (Team 973), CRUSH (Team 1011), Viking Robotics (Team 2928), and Bay Orangutans (Team 5499).

The two world champion alliances will go head-to-head at the Festival of Champions. The attending teams will also be meeting the creator of FIRST and inventor of the Segway, Dean Keaman, as well as seeing the inside of his labs.

The Pi-oneers got their start in 2004 when the local Mercedes-Benz dealership in the Montvale area decided that they wanted to help turn the engineering club into a FIRST Robotics team. Since then, they have gone to the FIRST Robotics World Championship 12 times. This year was their tenth year in a row in attendance and 52 of the team’s more than 80 members attended the St. Louis Championship.  

The furthest they’d previously advanced was to the division finals in 2010.

“It makes me so proud as a teacher, as a coach, to see that we have these students who we’ve trained and who we’ve been working with, to see them shine,” Killian said. “I just love seeing this kind of success and validation of their hard work.

The FIRST Robotics World Championship consists of 6 divisions, each named after a famous scientist or mathematician. In each qualifying match, three teams are partnered together randomly, forming a temporary alliance against another allied set of teams.

“It’s an athletic competition where the robots are the athletes,” Killian said.

The teams must each play 10 qualifying matches. After those ten, the top eight teams choose 3 teams they want to form an alliance with for the division finals.

“For qualification matches, it’s all random it’s just the luck of the draw,” Rein said. “[During qualifiers,] you can be with someone one match and against them the next.”

The winner of the division finals move on to the Einstein field, where the winners from each division compete for the title of World Champion.

“The Alliances force you to cooperative,” Killian said. “You’re playing as best you can, but you’re also playing for show. You’re also playing so the ones who finish at the top have seen you play as they’re watching the matches they’re not in. Everyone is trying to win and show off.”

The team’s final win came after a series of losses on the preceding Thursday.

Four of the ten qualifying matches were held on April 17 and the Pi-oneers lost all of them.

“We went back to the hotel with our tails between our legs,” Killian said. “It was a little bit disheartening.”

The team’s luck changed on Friday, winning all six matches, and continued on into Saturday.

Originally chosen as a back up, they were put into play when Lightning Robotics’ robot malfunctioned.

“It became apparent that the alliance was stronger with us in instead of the team they’d chosen. By the time they got to the finals, we were the ones that were selected,” Pascack Hills math teacher and Pi-oneers Head Coach and Lead Mechanical Engineering Mentor Mr. Kevin Killian said. “So we went from being a back up to being in the starting lineup as the play offs went on, when it really became important.”

From there, the alliance won one of the two remaining semi-final matches before competing against the Darwin Division in the finals.

“It was such a thrilling ride,” Killian said. “We want to be in the play for world champions every year.”

This win makes the Pi-oneers the second team in New Jersey to win a world championship.

“It’s the most incredible feeling in the world. It’s such a big deal in the FIRST community to win on a world level. It’s huge,” Rein said. “We’re just the Pascack Pi-oneers from Montvale, New Jersey and we’ve had such a terrible season this year. [The team] really deserved this.”

Killian anticipates that their win will benefit them for years to come.

“[The other teams] praised us about how well we did when we were put to the test,” he said. “That’s going to be noticed by the community. So next year, when there’s another alliance captain trying to put together an alliance, they’ll remember that the Pioneers put up when it’s time to. They will not let their alliance down. So this is the kind of thing that will build on itself.”

On top of benefitting them with in the FIRST community, he holds hope that it will benefit them within the district as well.

“I know that every year, there are kids who graduate who would have been fantastic on the team,” Killian said. “There are tinkerers, there are programmers. I know we don’t have all of those kids right now. I want to get more of those kids. Hopefully being world champions helps us get more of them.”

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Pascack Valley High School's Official News Site: Where there's smoke, there's fire.
Building a Champion