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Robotics team headed to nationals

| Thursday, April 25, 2013, 12:56 a.m.
Michael DiVittorio | Daily News
Clairton City School District robotics team Bazinga driver Zach Loera, co-captain Bianca Pulliam and captain Eliza Sopko gather with team Mega Nuke captain Garrett Santoline to display their awards earned at last week's BotsIQ competition. Not pictured is team Mega Nuke member Amanda Gillespie.

Clairton City School District's robotics teams took home four awards, including first place overall, at the Regional BotsIQ competition.

California University of Pennsylvania's Convocation Center hosted the event Friday and Saturday.

At the competition, 48 schools and a total of 52 robots battled for prizes and the opportunity to represent their schools at the national tournament in Indianapolis May 17, 18 and 19.

Clairton team members and advisor Dennis Beard displayed their plaques and trophies to district officials at Wednesday night's school board meeting.

Team Bazinga earned first place for its competition dominance, winning six out of six matches, and Grand Champion for the best overall performance in the competition, documentation, team interviews and other awards. The team consists of captain Eliza Sopko, co-captain Bianca Pulliam and driver Zack Loera.

Team Mega Nuke won best sportsmanship and coolest robot design. That team's members are captain and driver Garrett Santoline and Amanda Gillespie.

“Teams really pulled together, and that's the only way that we got this,” Beard said. “The girls were really great at building the robot and repairing the robot. I also had Zack Loera, who's an excellent driver.”

He lauded the efforts of Garrett and Amanda, whose competition was cut short because of technical difficulties.

“We call it the curse,” Beard said. “It had wiring issues and gear block issues and stuff like that. Things that you couldn't foresee happening to a robot happened to it.”

The students said they had a fun time learning and competing.

“I worked on the construction and my experience was really cool,” Bianca said. “It was my first year (in robotics) so I really didn't know what was going on in the beginning. With Mr. Beard's and Eliza's help and Garrett's, I got the hang of everything.”

“It feels good to see hard work pay off for once,” Eliza said.

Eliza also credited Zack for her team's success.

“The robot's only as good as the driver,” she said.

Robots went through a strict screening process including a weight restriction of no more than 15 pounds. Both Clairton robots weighed in at 14.99 pounds.

Teams also had to provide binders showing in-depth research of parts and materials, why they chose those objects and other technical information.

Garrett said he built and designed the robot, and Amanda helped compile the research and competition strategies.

Garrett provided assistance to other schools at the competition, helping his team earn the sportsmanship award.

Teams received some materials from Ace Wire Spring and Form Co., and Vangura Tool Co. assisted with cutting the weapons and some technical support.

At the national competition, Clairton will be going up against high school and university robotics teams.

A high school at the regional competition was so impressed with Clairton's sportsmanship that they are paying for one of the national registration fees, Beard said.

Fundraisers are planned to help offset costs for the other registration fee, as well as travel expenses. Clairton was awarded $2,000 in the regional contest.

School directors unanimously approved the trip to Indianapolis and to pay the difference between the $2,000 and what is earned through fundraisers.

Board president Richard Livingston noted the district receives much attention for its athletics, but not so much for its academics.

“This is the first time we got recognized for our academics,” Livingston said.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or