By Bill McCaughey
For The Fort Bend Star
The clock finally struck midnight for the Stafford Spartans robotics team as they were eliminated in the qualifying rounds of the FIRST Championship held last weekend in downtown Houston.
The Spartans, in only their second year of competition, surprised everyone but themselves as their alliance won the Alamo Regional to qualify for the FIRST Championships. Competing in the Turing Division, one of six qualification divisions, the Spartans won six of their 10 matches. Based on that record, the Spartans were ranked 26th of the 67 teams in the Turing Division.
Under the FIRST rules, the top eight ranked teams then invite three other teams to join their alliance. If the invitations followed form, the top eight teams would have selected the next 24 ranked teams. However, form didn’t hold, and the Spartans were left to watch the finals from the grandstands.
“We just missed out on being selected for the division championship round. We were among the top 32 ranked teams, which was our goal, but it just didn’t work out,” Stafford assistant coach Byron Thompson said. “This takes nothing away from the tremendous season we had. Now that we have experienced a world championship, we want to be back here every year.”
The Spartans will spend the summer competing in exhibition matches and in the UIL state tournament in June.
“We gained a lot of experience at the World Championships,” Stafford head coach Frank Hoang said. “The level of play is much higher than at the regional level. We learned we had to drive our robot much more aggressively and play tighter defense. There is a lot more strategy involved when you play with and against the best in the world.”
The winner of the FIRST Robotics Championship was an alliance of teams from Atascadero, Calif., Seattle, Wash., and Tucson, Ariz. The second-place finisher was an alliance of Team 118 (Robonauts) from Clear Creek ISD in League City and teams from Davis, Calif., and Columbus, Ga.
There were 400 teams and 10,000 high school students competing in the FIRST Robotics Competition. International teams came from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Dominican Republican, Israel, Mexico, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.
FIRST offers a second robotics program, the FIRST Tech Challenge for students in grades 7 to 12. In that, 1,500 students on 128 teams from nine countries competed in the program.
The FIRST Championship will return to Houston next April.