…Oh, the memories…
Many years ago, I wrote a “Mr. Long’s Musings” for our website as the build season moved along and certain things caught my attention. Over the holidays prior to this FIRST season, I came across my stash of team gear that I have collected over the years and immediately wanted to use that gear to reinstate my musings… it may be simply that I am aging ungracefully and wish to live in the past, but it is equally likely that I wish to remember some age-old truths and remember/thank a few people along the way.
The shown image is of our team’s T-shirt for our inaugural year and invokes too many memories to share properly, but it represents the Quincy Public Schools FIRST foray into FIRST (poor play on words will abound in my musings). The school year was 1995-1996 and it was the 5th season of FIRST robotics (Hexagon Havoc). I was in my third year of teaching physics at Quincy High School when a fellow science teacher, Mr. David Smith, approached me with the idea of starting a robotics team. He had a close friend, Mr. Paul Mauriello (affectionately known as Salubrious by many a robotics alum) who worked for a company called NYNEX (New York, New England Exchange – a telephone company now more likely named Verizon). NYNEX had been involved in FIRST since its beginnings and had a corporate policy of spending two years at a school and then moving on to a different school. Salubrious had been involved since the beginning and was a Quincy resident so he and Dave pushed hard to partner NYNEX with the Quincy Public Schools and the rest is, well – history. You can probably tell from the logo that one of the only “conditions” that NYNEX put into the partnership was that the team involve BOTH North Quincy and Quincy High School students. To this day, it is one of the things I am most proud about our team, that it is a City of Quincy team. In fact, our robot that year was called Spectrum and had rainbow colors painted on it in honor of the black and RED of North Quincy as well as the BLUE and white of Quincy.
In hindsight, I had NO idea what I was getting myself involved in and that year was a blur. NYNEX assigned an engineer full time to the project (Alex de Frondeville) and a sort of full time project manager (David Asano) who devoted their lives, along with Salubrious, to coming to the school and working with our students to build this machine to play the game. They came EARLY in the morning and stayed LATE into the night and we, as teachers, attempted to keep up. The company even flew in support staff on the weekends from New York and we managed to make it through. We had a great space in what was then called the CTE (Center for Technical Education) even though we had to bring in cases of water and hand cream to keep Alex from turning into a raisin.
We managed to do well enough at our regional event that year that FIRST asked NYNEX to send us to the FIRST Championships at Epcot in Florida. We were asked to showcase inside Epcot with four other teams and represent FIRST to all the people wandering past during the day. You can go to YouTube and type in 1996 FIRST Championships and you can see an ESPN show about the Championships. As I ponder, I can’t help but be a little sad they don’t still produce such a show. FIRST was always touted as a sport for the mind. Right now as I type, many of my friends and colleagues are glued to their TV sets watching the New England Patriots, but FIRST robotics has yet to reach that sort of fascination with the public. I still remember my introduction to the philosophy behind the creation of FIRST: the idea that we could go into classrooms all over the country and ask about favorite basketball or baseball or football players and get instant feedback, but ask about a living scientist or engineer and silence ensued… I guess all these years later we are still fighting that battle.
Last year we were privileged to have our driver from that inaugural year, Matt Chan, come back and be a mentor on the team, one of many of our team members who went off to college, earned some sort of technical degree (in Matt’s case an engineering degree from WPI) and are now professionals earning a living, doing what FIRST has always envisioned – making a difference after being inspired in science and/or technology. One of my many memories from that year was taking our robot to Florida and being reminded how gas expands when it gets hot… our robot had some rough times as those game pieces (large and small balls) heated up in the Florida sunshine.
Oh, the memories…