So I went to a Robotics Competition…


Credit: Shaker Robotics Team

So, I went to a robotics competition. 

It’s not like I played a large role in getting the robot together, since it was my first year participating. Most of my time was spent desperately grasping at straws, looking at pages of code with confusion. Actually, even more of my time was spent fooling around and being equally confused by the code after the ordeal. But that’s not important.

I really didn’t expect anything from the robotics competition. Realistically, it’s a bunch of metal heaps shooting oversized tennis balls into an oversized basketball hoop. No matter how excited the people around me were, I didn’t see myself joining in on cheering. I rarely cheer for anything, and since I don’t go to sporting events, I don’t often get the chance to. My impression of people who scream their heart out for a team that they had very little input on was something like a drunk orangutan wearing team colors. 

I guess I’m a drunk orangutan now.

The competition took place in the MVP Arena in Downtown Albany, about a 15 minute drive from the school. I don’t remember the drive well because I was still woozy from having just woken up. There might’ve been a great tension in the air, people discussing the day’s competition and our chances at success, perhaps there was palpable excitement and wild nervous energy everywhere– I wouldn’t know. I was bonking my head on the side of the window every time the bus hit a rock, trying really hard to go to sleep. The first day of competition we only had one bus for 50 or so people, and we were squeezed in like sardines, 3 to a seat. When we pulled up to the front of the arena, the flood of people that collapsed out of the bus was like watching a clown car unpack. Maybe it wasn’t nervous energy in the bus, and it was just BO and deodorant. Again, I wasn’t conscious, so I wouldn’t know. 

A huge crowd in the bus, a huge crowd on the street, and a huge crowd met us in the building. Over two sets of escalators was a massive mass of people that shifted ever so slightly every few minutes, like a paralyzed squirrel. We worked our way through to a set of extremely tired security guards and permanently red metal detectors. I flashed my open backpack at one of them, and I swear he didn’t even look inside as he waved me in. I should’ve brought snacks or something. 

And so that was the trip, and I sat down in one of the stadium seats to watch the field. It was divided in two; one side being the pits, where tired teams continuously fixed parts that had somehow broken on the robot, and the other side being the game field, with the oversized basketball hoop. That’s where I thought my memory would end. I would close my eyes, and when I opened them, I’d be lunchtime, just in time for a greatly mediocre lunch that I paid way too much money for. But that didn’t happen.

Well, I’ll admit the first day of competition was just slightly above average. That was for qualifying matches, just to set a ranking for every team for the quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals the next day. The top eight would get to choose other teams for the final games– think of it like choosing people for a dodgeball game. It would’ve been completely boring if it weren’t for the absolutely engrossing side quest that was the pin game. Every team made these small pins with their team logo printed on it. These would be put in baskets around the pits, where each team’s tent would feature them for people walking by to take and wear. Being that there were like 50 teams (I have no idea how many there were, I didn’t count), there were around 40 or so pins (some teams didn’t make pins. Lame, might I add.) 

I learned that a game for the people in the stands– who frankly weren’t doing much– to pass the time was to go into the pits and try to collect all the pins. Well, what a useless waste of time. Why would anyone–

So Gia, a friend in robotics, and I spent around an hour collecting small metal pins as if our lives depended on it. Actually, only I was collecting the pins, and she wanted rubber bracelets, which were also being distributed. By the end of it, my Shaker shirt was weighed down with a gluttony of pins, covering me like a rainbow Christmas tree. How fun. 

The second day was when I found enjoyment in the actual event. I didn’t think it possible, but while watching the game, I somehow grew greatly attached to our team’s efforts. A number of chants were started throughout the rounds: Team 333 had, “Megalo what? Megalodons!”, I believe Shen had, “Who are we? Rocketeers!” (I don’t remember if that’s correct, I didn’t care about them that much), and we had the simple, “27! 91!”. That’s our team number by the way. Along the way there were some cheers of “Blue Alliance” or “Red Alliance”, depending on which one we were on for the round, et cetera. When the horn sounded and the metal bots began whirring and clanging on the field, the arena would become filled with the passionate shouts of the audience, hoots and hollers for a result that we had no control over. Cries for teams that we could not help. But something interesting happened. Everytime we cheered for ourselves or for a team on our alliance there was just that tiny smidge more excitement, just a tad bit more care and energy put into the shout. Before I knew it, I realized two things. One, the robotics competition was just a glorified sports tournament. Two, I didn’t care at all. I was just screaming my heart out. You know, ‘cause it was fun.

I won’t say that I completely get sportsgoers. I don’t know the ins and outs of any sport really, but I can say that I kind of understand why someone would get excited for a team. You kind of feel that if you cheer loud enough, maybe you’ll make a difference. Maybe your team will win if you care enough.

Anyways, we lost in the semifinals. I remember looking at the scoreboard and my heart dropping at the score, and the drastic drop in mood that fell over our section of the arena. I also remember watching Mr. Ashline stand up (I’ve never seen this man get as amped up as he did on this day) and shout in the loudest voice I’ve ever heard, “27!” And then, like soldiers saluting valiantly for a fallen country, we responded with an earth-shattering, “91!” It seems silly to me now that I screamed that innocuous number with so much passion, but that brought me possibly the closest to tears that day. Closest, mind you. I’d never cry for a sports tournament. 

And that’s it. I could talk more about how we talked about how many wheels and doors were in the world on the bus, or how overpriced all the food was in the arena, or how terrible the lunch was (That was the driest salad I’ve ever had in my life), or how the stadium sang “Country Roads” during a break, but I won’t. There’s no real reason, I’m just lazy. Maybe I’ll cover it later. I see now that sports fans aren’t just drunk orangutans. They’re passionate too. And I guess I’m kinda one of them.

Never again.