For the second consecutive year, Union High School’s fledgling robotics program will be represented at the First Tech Challenge Super Regional Competition, as Union’s Robota Red (#5149) will compete against 35 other teams from a 12 state region for the right to advance to the FIRST Tech Challenge World Championship Competition in April. Team members include Nathan Acuff, Noah Dobson, Nathan Dvorak, Gabe Klein, Grant Mullen, Tia Renaud and Hailee Acuff and are coached by Doug Bechthold. The Super Regional competition will be held at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, March 26-28.
The FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) is one of several robotics programs operated by the international K-12 not-for-profit organization FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), founded by inventor Dean Kamen. With a goal of inspiring student interest in science and technology, FIRST Tech Challenge is designed for students in grades 7-12, who form teams that design, build and program robots to compete in a competition structured in an alliance format. Teams, with assistance of volunteer coaches and mentors, are challenged to develop strategies and construct robots using sound engineering principles. This process allows them to apply real-world math and science concepts to the project while developing problem-solving, team-building and organizational skills that will serve them well in their future careers.
Unique to competitions sponsored by FIRST are the concepts of Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition, as defined by the organization at

“With Gracious Professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate notions. Gracious professionals learn and compete like crazy, but treat one another with respect and kindness in the process. They avoid treating anyone like losers. No chest thumping tough talk, but no sticky-sweet platitudes either.”
“At FIRST, Coopertition is displaying unqualified kindness and respect in the face of fierce competition. Coopertition is founded on the concept and a philosophy that teams can and should help and cooperate with each other even as they compete. Coopertition involves learning from teammates. It is teaching teammates. It is learning from Mentors. And it is managing and being managed. Coopertition means competing always, but assisting and enabling others when you can.”
Unlike high school athletic events where each team competes independently, a matches in a FIRST Tech Challenge competition pairs two teams in an alliance who then compete against another alliance of two teams. Because the match is won by the partners with the highest combined score, it is in the best interest for each team to work cooperatively with their alliance partner. Over the course of a competition, teams will compete in several matches. When teams advance to the semi-final and final rounds, strategy can make a significant impact on the outcome. At this point in the competition, teams select the alliance partner of their choice, with the order of selections determined by team rankings. Selecting an alliance partner with a low scoring average can sometimes be a better choice, depending on how well the robot from the lower scoring team complements the strengths and weaknesses of the robot from the higher scoring team.
In addition to Robota Red, a second team from Union High School, Robota White (#7500), was among the 4,450 teams consisting of nearly 45,000 students from around the world who have participated in the 2014-15 FIRST Tech Challenge game, CASCADE EFFECT. Launched in September 2014, the object of CASCADE EFFECT is to score the most points by placing different sized plastic balls into various goals arranged in a 12-foot square playing field.
Each match has two phases. The first is a 30-second Autonomous Phase, where robots carryout pre-programmed instructions, scoring points by completing a variety of tasks. During this time, the team has no external control over the robot.
A two-minute Driver-Controlled Phase then follows, as each team’s driver maneuvers their robot with a controller, placing balls into the scoring zones. The last 30 seconds of the Autonomous Phase is called the End Game. During this time, teams can score bonus points by completing specific tasks.
By virtue of their performance at a qualifying competition, Union’s Robota Red advanced to the State Competition held in Coralville on March 7. The team then won five of seven matches with their alliance partners to advance and, eventually, placed high enough to earn one of the 36 slots available at the upcoming North Super Regional Competition, a remarkable accomplishment for an extracurricular program founded by Bruce Rempe less than five years ago. Teams that advance from Super Regional competitions will compete in the final event of the season, the FTC World Championship, which will be held in St. Louis April 22-25.