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Robotics Team Wins Award

Rookies Catch ‘Rising Star’ from Champs

Three… two … one … LEGO! The countdown reverberated through the gymnasium of Longwood High School in Middle Island on Sunday, March 3, as 41 LEGO robotics teams stood poised to have their self-constructed robots run various missions. Among those teams was the Garden City Robotics League’s (GCRL) Robotic Rebels, a seven-member team comprising 10- and 11-year-old children.

The 9th Annual Long Island FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Championship Tournament was an invitational. The Robotic Rebels, along with three other GCRL FLL teams, competed among 80 teams on Feb. 2 and 3 at Central Islip Senior High School at the FIRST LEGO League Qualifier Tournament. Coached by Steve Giammona and Brian Sanguyu, the Rebels were among the top 50 percent of teams over the two-day qualifier last month to advance to the championship, clinching first place for “Innovative Solution.”

Team members Keith DeStaebler, Steven Giammona, Justin MacFall, Christina Marciano, Ronnie Marciano, Kevin McGoldrick and Anthony Sanguyu enjoyed an encore at the championship tournament, winning the prestigious “Judges Award,” which recognized the rookie team as a “Rising Star.” The judges cited the Rebels’ “unique efforts, performance [and] dynamics … that set them apart in a noteworthy way.”

The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) FLL Tournament has many facets: robot construction and performance, research, development of an innovative solution, presentation skills, teamwork and gracious professionalism. At the center of it all is the FLL Core Values, which participants embrace and, as a result, learn that friendly competition and mutual gain are not separate goals, and that helping one another is the foundation of teamwork.  

Indeed, the Rebels collaborated multiple times a week for several months to build and program their robot to effectively compete in four two-and-a-half-minute rounds wherein their robot had to complete multiple missions on an obstacle course, which included moving and retrieving various LEGO pieces.

When not practicing missions, the team focused on this year’s Senior Solutions Challenge. They explored the topic of aging and how it affects a person’s ability to maintain his or her lifestyle.

“We were thinking of a problem and recently my grandma, she lives in Connecticut, tripped, and at the same time we heard about a story about an old man during Hurricane Sandy whose house blew up. Thankfully, he wasn’t hurt.  We took those two problems that we heard about at the same time and we put them together, and we found out that falls and gas-related accidents were the two leading causes of [senior injuries and fatalities in the home],” team member Steven Giammona said. The team realized that when seniors trip and cannot get up, they need “something that will shut off their gas,” Keith DeStaebler added. Their solution? The “Senior Saver,” a wireless device that can be worn around the neck that shuts off a home’s main gas valve by the touch of a button.

Seems pretty intense for fourth and fifth graders, but at the heart of their diligence was fun. “I just wanted to keep it fun so they would want to do it again,” Coach Giammona said. Looking ahead to next year, Giammona and Coach Sanguyu won’t change their approach. “Now that the kids—and we—have experience, we’re looking forward to diving right into next year’s challenge,” Giammona said.

As for the GCRL, league director Trish Lynch, who attended the championship tournament, is all in. “We parents formed the GCRL to bring our children the skills they need to prepare them to compete in today’s world. … My vision is for our children to one day be competing in the high school competitions on Long Island and holding their own up against the school districts who have been doing this for years. The life skills are priceless, and the scholarship opportunities are huge.”