‘The only sport where everybody can go pro’: Concord robotics gears up for FIRST competition

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 03-25-2023 6:48 PM

The students have six weeks.

Six weeks to build a robot from scratch.

For a college engineering student, it sounds like an arduous challenge; but for some eager high school students? It sounds like a near-impossible task.

Yet, the Concord High robotics team continues plugging away on its robot in preparation for Saturday’s FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition at the Whittemore Center Arena at the University of New Hampshire.

The robot needs to be able to accomplish three tasks: pick up a cone and place it on a peg; pick up a cube; and climb up a ramp, while also being able to drive autonomously for the first 15 seconds of the match.

“The school likes to refer to this as a co-curricular event, but it goes well beyond that,” said Mark Sedutto, the lead mentor of the team whose son Matthew is the team captain. “We get into some pretty heavy physics and engineering stuff.”

It’s not just Sedutto and president Maureen Cloutier blindly telling the students what they need to do. They need to have a deep understanding of how all the technical components work.

“We really push these kids,” Sedutto said. “It’s important that they know what they’re doing because they’re going to be judged. … They have to have the answers. They have to know what they did, which means they have to do it.”

‘Everyone understands the bigger picture’

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Matthew Sedutto’s been involved with Concord robotics since fifth grade. Now a junior, he oversees most of an operation that involves much more than just engineering.

They have a design team, a rules team, a mechanical team and an electrical team as well as a media team that handles their social media platforms and a business team that focuses on securing sponsors.

“Being part of a FIRST team does not mean that you’re a STEM kid at all,” the younger Sedutto said. “It’s really cool that we could take any nerd from the school, and they’ll have a place somewhere in robotics, and they’ll feel welcome.”

That camaraderie sparks the cohesiveness of everyone involved. Just like a basketball team or a soccer team, everyone has their own roles that contribute to the greater success of the group.

Without that, building a robot from scratch in a month and a half would be almost impossible.

“Everyone understands the bigger picture,” Sedutto said. “They’re really willing to play their team parts, and it all comes together really well.”

From Cloutier’s perspective as president, the skills the students acquire through robotics easily translate after they move onto college and into the work force.

“They are working on their computer skills, social interaction, mechanical skills, leadership skills,” she said.

Concord’s “Tidal Force” – as they’re called – isn’t the only area team preparing for a robotics event. Groups at Pembroke Academy and Belmont High School are gearing up for the VEX Robotics Competition next weekend in Pembroke. Contrary to the FIRST competition, this is a scrimmage in preparation for the world competition, so no points will be awarded nor will any robots be judged.

Still it’s an opportunity to gain more practice working with their robots and work out any kinks that might come up. As Mark Sedutto explained, during competition, a team might only have 10-15 minutes between events, so if something on the robot needs to be fixed, there isn’t much time.

“A lot of it is leadership, it’s perseverance,” he said. “It’s real-world success and failure that’s related to effort, not just participation.”

Sedutto’s been the lead mentor for eight years, while Cloutier’s in her sixth as the organization’s president.

The aptitude of their students never ceases to impress.

“If they walk away feeling like they’ve accomplished something and learned something, then it’s all good,” Sedutto said. “They’re already way ahead of the game.”

He continued: “They’re a group to be proud of. We like to say, this is the only sport where everyone can go pro. And it’s true.”

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