So here we are basically stuck with the knowledge that we love this program called FIRST (or, at minimum, can appreciate its value!) and we have just lost our sponsor. [and for those who don’t know, the program is expensive! – worthwhile, but expensive!]
Our QPS leader at the time was Dr. Angela Avery who coordinated all the chapter 74 programs for the Quincy Public Schools [automotive, carpentry, electrical, plumbing, culinary, etc.] and, as a result, she had contacts through the advisory committees of those programs. One of these contacts was with The Gillette Company, so she approached them and somehow convinced them that this FIRST program was a worthy investment of their resources. As a result, we managed to stay in the game for year three.
At this point, we, the school, had two years of experience and The Gillette Company had zero, but we forged ahead. We were blessed as The Gillette Company encouraged their employees to spend time working with our students on the game. This is one of the fundamental components of FIRST – bringing high school students into direct contact with professionals to inspire them to learn things. It was right around this particular year that Dean Kamen felt compelled to tell everyone at kickoff that this was NOT an educational program, but an inspirational program…teams had taken to walking around the pits with signs saying “100% student built” and there was a leaning towards having students do everything….Dean made it clear that if students did everything and the robot was a disaster AND there were no professionals to show them how it should be done, then we weren’t fulfilling the mission of FIRST. There were struggles as we heard about the extremes from the “all student built” teams to the “all professionals built” (hey come look through the glass at “our” robot “we” built) teams. Twenty + years later this is an issue we continue to revisit. Of course, I would love to believe that we have just the right mix of professional input and student involvement…
This was the first year of many productive years with The Gillette Company where they were willing to send the professionals to work with our students and inspire. One thing that always impressed me at our annual team dinner was when the vice president from the company came to speak he always made sure to tell us that (1) he appreciated the dinner and the school’s desire to thank The Gillette Company for their willingness to partner with us but (2) we needed to know that The Gillette Company also believed that their company was getting something in return – a place where their engineers and machinists could work together forging relationships as well as a place where their young engineers could learn project management (think about what it takes to learn a game, design, test and build a robot and then go compete with it in just over 6 weeks.) For anybody out there attempting to find sponsorship and convince a company that the program is “worth” it, this is what I would hone in on – the ability for young professionals to share skills while improving their own in the process.
The game that year was “Ladder Logic,” with a field that looked sort of like a playground Jungle Gym. One of my distinct memories of that year was our design decision about getting those large balls scored. You can see from the picture that the overwhelming number of teams had some sort of long extended arm and we truly thought that these arms would be hard to control as these large balls would be out on the end of a feeble mechanism. As a result, we chose to build a robot that would squeeze the balls with what amounted to “two hands/paddles” that we called our gripper and come up through from underneath…then we would twist our hands, let go of the ball and drop back down through the rails to get another ball. Our Achilles heel, however, was that it took maybe 10 seconds to effectively squeeze the ball to get through and then we needed to reverse the process in order to score. Anyone on the team would remember the screams of “Open the gripper!!!!” as, during actual matches, those precious seconds became maddening to watch.
We may be one of the few (if not only) FIRST teams to ever win a Rookie of the Year award twice. We received one our first year with NYNEX and won a Rookie of the Year award AGAIN with our new partnership with The Gillette Company. We never meant anything malicious, but as a “scorned lover” after NYNEX we moved into our new partnership and never really looked back…for years our team T-shirts said “since 1998” as our partnership with The Gillette Company continued. As I progress through our team gear and realize how many different iterations of partnerships we have had since the beginning, it may be time to put “since 1996” on our gear and tell the whole story to anyone who asks…
p.s. The parrot on the shirt this year was fashioned after “Sharpie the Parrot”, an animated advertising figure used by The Gillette Company during the 1950s.