Some background information: in 2015, the Posse entered and won a social media contest hosted by FedEx. Our prize was an all-expenses-paid weekend in St. Louis to visit the FIRST World Championship. We had the chance to meet a ton of cool FedEx executives on the trip, which (spoiler alert!) made for an awesome reunion when we went to Worlds again. We still talk about that weekend all the time and consider it to be an important highlight in Posse history.
Now, almost exactly two years later, we were traveling to St. Louis once again with a significant difference: instead of just visiting, the Posse had the opportunity to actually compete among the best robotics teams in the world. We honestly didn’t really know what to expect, but we were excited to represent Minnesota at the world championship alongside our friends.
Some of us drove and some of us flew, but everyone left on Tuesday, April 25. We met up in the evening to figure out scheduling and that sort of thing. Plenty of “oh my gosh I can’t believe we’re actually HERE!”s were exchanged before we waved goodbye and went to our separate rooms for the night.
Though it was a really minor thing, one of my favorite things about the trip was seeing robotics teams and volunteers walking the streets of St. Louis. I can’t even imagine how the locals must have felt – everywhere you looked, you saw groups of teenagers in matching t-shirts, people in referee shirts, and dozens of people with official FIRST World Championship nametags. Even in our hotel, there was always at least one 30-member FRC team waiting in the lobby. Needless to say, we met a lot of cool people in the hotel elevators.
We woke up early on the first competition day to practice the judging presentation. Then, we left for Union Station, which is where the FTC pits and competition are held.
First thing on the agenda was pit set-up and then robot inspection. It turns out that our pit was right next to EPIC and Height Differential, who are FTC teams that also attend Mounds View High School. We got everything set up pretty efficiently and started talking to some of the teams around us before heading to robot inspection.
Robot inspection went pretty smoothly. We had a couple of robot connection problems, so we got to meet the FTAs (Field Technical Advisors) early on, but it all got figured out and we went on our merry way. We also found out that Stacy the robot is about 30 lbs. With her weight plus her awkward cube-shaped figure, no wonder it takes two of us to carry her!
Above: The Posse drive team getting Stacy ready for Field Inspection
After inspections were done, we practiced the presentation a couple more times before heading to the judging queue area. There was a pretty long line of FTC teams waiting to enter the room when we arrived, so we took the opportunity to try and calm our nerves before it was our turn.
The judging sessions actually took place in a big ballroom full of black curtains that separated the teams. It was different than what we’re used to and we were a little worried about being distracted by other voices, but it wasn’t really a problem. Once we got into the presentation, we were too focused by what we were doing to be distracted by outside noises. The whole thing went very smoothly and we had a fun time showing off Stacy and describing our outreach efforts to the judges.
On the way back to the pits afterwards, I realized that this was our last judging session of the 2016-2017 FTC season. It made me feel weirdly sentimental. I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like next year when everything will be our last (since next season will be our senior year of high school).
After the judging session was over, the real fun began. The rest of Wednesday and all of Thursday were spent meeting international teams, saying hello to fellow Minnesota teams, eating delicious lunches from food trucks, buying FIRST swag (everything from t-shirts to water bottles), hanging out at the pit, and talking to judges when they came to visit us. The drive team spent most of our time running Stacy and chatting with other teams in the queuing areas. We ended up seeing a lot of cool robots and making friends with the volunteers in between our actual matches.
Above: Amy and Charlotte talking with girls from ‘Lectric Legends, one of our friends who we met at the North Super Regional Championship
Above: The FTC pit area
Above: The FTC competition area
Just like the Stacy connection fiasco that happened at Supers, we started having some trouble on Thursday. There were a couple of FTAs there who knew us at Supers and got a “not this again!” look on their faces when they heard. Luckily, everyone was very nice and willing to help us troubleshoot throughout the two days of matches.
Above: While helping us troubleshoot, an FTA gives Stacy a high-five
Apparently word spreads between volunteers fast at these tournaments, because judges came by and asked how things were going throughout the entire rest of the weekend. It was kind of funny that such an annoying problem helped us meet more volunteers and bring technical people together as they tried to figure out what the heck was wrong with Stacy.
A couple of things happened Friday morning. First – we got an email from a FedEx representative saying that they were going to find us at 10:30 to say hello. Sure enough, a Mr. Baker and Mr. Wheaton (two of the guys who we’d met on our first St. Louis trip) came by and we all had a wonderful time catching up. Mr. Baker then left on a phone call and returned a couple minutes later with a huge mob of smiling people in purple FedEx gear. Not only were there a bunch of executives and cool people we had met back in 2015, but there was an equal number of new faces who all said the same thing: “We’ve heard so much about you!”
The teams around us must have been really confused. Since our pit is only 10’x10’, we blocked most of the walkway as FedEx employees gathered around to talk and introduce themselves. Everyone was super high-energy and it was awesome to reminisce with them about the trip. Those 20 minutes were definitely one of the highlights of this entire St. Louis adventure.
The second thing that happened on Friday morning was a bunch of young visitors came by to drive Stacy. It started with a local family who visits the St. Louis championship every year, though neither of the boys are old enough to participate in the programs yet. The kids seemed really interested in Stacy and we let them drive her around our pit, which earned them their official robot driver’s license.
Above: The official robot driver’s license
After these first two came by, many other younger siblings and FLL Jr. participants came by to get their robot driver’s licenses. It was awesome that we were able to do outreach at the tournament – hopefully we did our part to inspire them to stick with robotics and become the next generation of FTC participants.
Above: A newly-certified robot driver receives her license
The day ended pretty early because the rest of it was reserved for the FTC Awards Ceremony. It was actually held in a different building, so we set out in the pouring rain to the Peabody Opera House alongside hundreds of other FTC students. It was actually a pretty fun 10-minute walk. Though we did get wet, it was nice to see St. Louis on foot as we tried to contain our excitement for the ceremony.
The opera house was a beautiful building that was almost filled with FTC teams and volunteers by the time we got there. A few speeches were given by sponsors and FIRST directors before the awards began.
Now, let me set the scene. There was a large section on the floor where many teams were seated directly in front of the stage. But most of the seats were on balcony levels far above the stage – that’s where we were sitting. So we were all wondering how the teams were supposed to get down to the stage to go through the judge high-five line if they won something. Spoiler alert: we were the ones who had to figure that out.
The first Judges Award was given to a team on the floor level, so there was no problem with them getting to the stage. But, as for the second Judges Award… here’s what they said:
“The judges were particularly impressed that the FTAs came to them to specifically recognize one team. The FTAs have years of experience helping teams with very stressful robot problems and never have they seen a team maintain such poise and positive attitude as this year’s winner of the Judges Gracious Professionalism Under Fire Award. Team 8808, The Ponytail Posse!”
Ahhh! We all freaked out a little bit as our name was called and instinctively ran for the door to exit the balcony level. But once we got out there, we were a little confused. We pushed the elevator button and waited… and waited… and waited… all this time, applause is still going on and we’re laughing our heads off. Finally, one of the volunteers outside the big room directed us to the stairs and we made our way down.
We burst through a door to the ground floor and the cheering became louder. I can imagine everyone thinking, “finally, what took them so long?” as we ran through an aisle and up the stage. We were all still laughing as we went through the high-five line, off the stage, and back into the corridor that led to our balcony seats.
When we finally got back to our seats, they were playing the Compass Award (award recognizing a team mentor) video from the winning team. The team was announced and they went through the high-five line like we had just done. Then, the Promote Award video winner was announced: Team 8808, The Ponytail Posse!
Since we were experts at running to the stage by this point, we made our way down and through the high-five line one more time with huge smiles on our faces. This award was all thanks to the fabulous Amelie. Her hard work on this video certainly paid off.
The rest of the award ceremony went by pretty quickly. Minnesota was well-represented; the Green Girls from Eagan won the Connect Award for their outreach, and Height Differential was finalist for the Inspire Award, the highest honor that an FTC team can get. It was awesome to see and congratulate each other afterwards.
Above: The Posse and Height Differential after the awards ceremony
We spent the rest of the night doing fun things around St. Louis with other Minnesota teams. Since this is the last year that the FIRST World Championship will be held there, we wanted to explore as much as possible before going back to our hotel for the night.
Saturday was pretty much just a big party. We spent the morning walking around the FRC and FLL pits, as well as seeing some of the FRC competition. It’s held in a huge arena with hundreds of people in the stands cheering on their teams with amazing enthusiasm. All of us had the same thought: “Who says this isn’t a sport?”
Then, we headed back to FTC for the final elimination rounds. We had a great time cheering on our friends, especially Height Differential, who was captain of one of the alliances. They ended up winning the entire tournament and becoming world champions. We couldn’t be more proud of them.
Above: The Rubies and the Posse jokingly ask Height Differential for autographs
Since the closing ceremonies didn’t start until that evening, we had some time to kill. We were having lunch at a delicious Mediterranean restaurant when we got a message from the official FIRST Twitter account telling us to visit the media center.
When we went there after finishing lunch, we found out that our team was nominated by FIRST to represent them at the White House Science Fair later this year. No date has been confirmed, but we applied and are hoping that the administration will accept us to show off Stacy and talk about our experience in robotics. This is an awesome opportunity and we are kind of still in disbelief that FIRST chose us to represent the program.
The FIRST employees let us stick around and sit at a small circular table in the media center to write the application. As we did, they kept coming by and giving us more FIRST giveaways like buttons, notepads, and t-shirts featuring a robotic disco cat. We joked that we should stay there all night just so we could keep getting free stuff.
After we finished the application, one of the nice FIRST people invited us to a suite to watch the closing ceremony. We excitedly followed her into a little room that had a balcony to watch the ceremony from up high.
But we were barely there for 20 minutes before someone else came back in and told us that we could go to the VIP lounge upstairs. It turns out that FedEx had somehow heard that we were in a suite, gotten all excited, and invited us to the VIP lounge. What?!
So we took the elevator upstairs and claimed a little corner of the VIP area for ourselves. There were a lot of volunteers and cool people we had met that week, so we actually didn’t get to watch much of the closing ceremony. Instead, we ate snacks and talked about the Ponytail Posse Foundation, our robot issues, and how great of a week it had been.
After the ceremony was over, we went to the floor area right in front of the stage to look around and take pictures. On the way out of the VIP lounge, we got a wave from Dean Kamen (founder of FIRST), which was awesome. We also ended up meeting Dr. Woodie Flowers, co-founder of FIRST. We thanked him for everything he’s done while he signed a neon yellow ball we had taken from the FRC field nearby.
On the long walk out of the convention center, we ran into a few more cool people: the Tuxedo Pandas, an FTC team from Virginia who we’ve looked up to since our first season; one of the FTC emcees with really cool hair; Andy Marshall, a FIRST Senior Mentor who we’ve become friends with, and his friend; as well as Don Bossi, president of FIRST. Each of these people have added to the championship in such different ways and running into each of them in turn was a great way to finish off our experience.
Above: Don’t the Tuxedo Pandas have great hats?
Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible – from friends and family who donated on GoFundMe, to our wonderful sponsors, to the Posse parents who put up with us throughout the whole tournament, we would not have had this amazing opportunity without you. This season of the Posse was our best yet and we are incredibly grateful for everyone who helped make it possible.
We have one more season before graduation. If it’s even half as incredible as the 2016-17 season was, then it will be one that we remember for the rest of our lives. Let’s go!
Thank you for reading. If you would like to learn more about our World Championship adventure, watch the videos below or click here.
You can also watch our award-winning promotional video here or below.