The FIRST competition builds tech experts of the future -- and helps kids, some of them disadvantaged, get into college

DAVID F. ASHTON - The Metal Beavers Team 1432 members stand by, waiting for the next match to begin. Because the FIRST Robotics Competition District Tournament was moved north, from Philomath to Lake Oswego this year, THE BEE was given the opportunity to see our area's teams compete.

As you may recall, the scrappy robotics club, FIRST Robotics Competition Team 1432 – known as the "Metal Beavers" – was ejected from Franklin High School in 2010 for reasons that even today are completely obscure, but the nonprofit youth program has continued on, in the basement of Knights of Pythias Ivanhoe Lodge #1 in the Lents neighborhood.

Thanks to the efforts of their small-but-mighty team and its mentors, the Metal Beavers started the whirlwind six-week "build season" in January – amid blizzards and ice storms – and competed successfully during the District competition held in Wilsonville in early March, then performing well in the Lake Oswego tournament that began on March 31.

While building their remote-controlled robot, the Metal Beavers gave time and resources to a new rookie club – Team 6437, "The Pacific Quakers" – sponsored by their original home base, Franklin High School.

"This year's challenge is called 'FIRST Steamworks', in which two alliances of three robots compete to deliver cut-out 'gears' to teammates, launch balls – and finally, get their 120 lb. robot to climb ropes for additional points," explained Oregon Robotics Tournament Outreach Program Executive Director David Perry at the competition held at Lake Oswego High School.

"These 30 teams, from Oregon and Washington, are competing to gain points with the hopes of being invited to the Pacific Northwest District Championship," Perry said.

Metal Beavers score highly

Between rounds, Metal Beavers team member Caleb Eby reminded us that their four-member team continues to be sponsored by the Ivanhoe Lodge in Lents, and the Southeast Portland Rotary Club which meets at the Eastmoreland Golf Clubhosue, among others.

"This is my second year of being with our team," Eby said. "I like it because I'm really interested in computer programming, electronics, and I like driving the robot."

A sophomore at Franklin High School, Eby said the robotics club enhances his educational experience. "Sometimes, it's difficult to apply what we learn in class in a competitive situation. When I see our robot out on the field, it makes me feel good, especially when we're getting as many points as we can."

After a tie score for the last team to be invited to the regional competition, and a fateful coin flip to resolve it, the disappointed Metal Beavers didn't move on to the finals – but they ended what they called their "best ever" season by ranking in 7th place out of the 30 teams, with a total score of 58.

Franklin High sponsors new club

One of the newest clubs in the league is Team 6437, known as "The Pacific Quakers", hailing from and sponsored by the Franklin High School (FHS) Marshall Campus, which currently is also in the Lents neighborhood.

"We are a brand-new rookie team this year," grinned their driver and spokesman, FHS senior Cooper DeLay. "Building our robot was really fun, and we're grateful for help we got from other teams, the Metal Beavers and the [Cleveland High] Pigmice.

"I think a lot of students would find this program very rewarding; there is some pressure, but the reward is worth it," DeLay added.

While they didn't compete in the Playoff Matches, the Pacific Quakers ended their season ranking 19 out of 30, and gathered a total score of 33 points, including a 10-point "Rookie Year Bonus".

Cleveland High's Pigmice still rolling

Hailing from Cleveland High School (CHS), Team 2733 – "The Pigmice" – originated in 2009, led by students who won the FIRST Lego League robot competition while at Winterhaven School in Brooklyn.

Pigmice membership has waxed and waned over the years, reflected CHS senior Jaden Berger, a four-year member of the team.

"Being mainly on the mechanical side of robot building has kept my interest," Berger said. "The last two years, I've been team captain, so I've been learning leadership skills, and helping teach everybody else the skills that I have. Doing this, I can apply physics concepts to actual things that help me learn better – and, at the same time, it's really fun!"

Some of their robot's parts were malfunctioning, but the CHS team worked to solve problems by reprogramming their robot, and making other changes. Due to the unforeseen malfunctions, however, The Pigmice ended their season ranking 26th out of 30 teams, with a total score of 22.

To learn more about the Oregon FIRST Robotics Tournament Outreach Program, go online –

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