The week of April 25, five Concord Academy students traveled to Detroit to compete in the FIRST Challenge World Championships — Mark Morton ’18 and August Pokorak ’19 with their Lexington, Mass., team the Brainstormers, and Jack Hutchinson ’19, Anna Sander ’20, and Wesley Lo ’19 with their Lincoln, Mass., team Gear Ticks. During the final phase of the four-day event, which was attended by more than 40,000 people, the Brainstormers were part of an alliance that took first place, making them world champions in this intense national robotics competition.
The Brainstormers were the only team in their division to be undefeated in their qualifying rounds. They chose their two alliance partners for the final round, one a team of their friends from Lexington High School, 2 Bits and a Byte. In keeping with the Brainstormers’ undefeated streak, that alliance won the final round in two matches, going 15–0 for the entire competition.
The victory wasn’t a foregone conclusion, though, which made it especially exciting. “We had no idea we were going to win or even were likely to win until the very last match,” says August, a programmer in his ninth year on the Brainstormers team.
“It was a crazy feeling to stand on Ford Field in from of an estimated 15,000 people,” says Mark, a programmer and floor coach in his fourth year with the Brainstormers. “A big part of our success is that we are friends first, teammates second, so we all trust each other.”
Few independent teams excel as the Brainstormers have. They have to put in extra work to compete against school-sponsored teams, which receive school time and funding. These students raise funds themselves. And they’re always preparing for the next competition. The world championship win was a culmination of many years of work on a team that, though not a school team has been supported by the CA community and has involved other CA students. In 2016, the team, which then included Ben Larsen ’17, Dan Broun ’17, and Ethan Oliver ’17, competed for the first time at Worlds, fulfilling a dream many of its members had since they were nine years old. Just two years later, the Brainstormers returned and emerged as world champions.
Gear Ticks team earned distinction at the FIRST World Championships as well, as one of four finalists for the top judged award, from a total of nearly 6,000 teams from around the world. Finalists for the Inspire Award are top contenders for a number of judged awards in areas that encompass engineering design, outreach, and connection to professionals and communities, innovation, and excellence in programming and systems control. The teams are professional and engaging, and they serve as ambassadors for FIRST programs.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded in 1989 to inspire young people’s appreciation of science and technology. In the FIRST Tech Challenge, students think like engineers, build robots from a reusable kit of parts, develop strategies, document their progress, and compete head-to-head in 150-second rounds of play that include both autonomous and driver-controlled periods. Approximately 60,000 students on 6,013 FIRST Tech Challenge teams competed during the 2017-18 season.