South Carroll High School’s RoboCavs Gold Team is heading for the FIRST Robotics FTC World Championship in Detroit the week of April 24 after placing second at the state competition on March 3. Two-hundred teams have vied for 50 spots during eight competitions held between November 2018 and February 2019.
According to a news release from Carroll County Public Schools, RoboCavs Gold is the first robotics team from this county ever to qualify for the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) World Championship.
To compete against teams from all over the world is a huge honor for the RoboCavs. Their faculty adviser, Sean Lee, is still celebrating the win.
“The Gold Team worked hard to fix their technical issues and came roaring back, winning seven of their final nine matches, capturing second place overall in the state,” Lee said. “The teams we competed against were the 50 best teams from Maryland and DC.”
It’s a big step for a club that began seven years ago with mentor Tom Lee and his son, Sean.
“After a 45-year career as an engineer, I retired in 2012. At the time, my son, Sean, was exploring the possibility of starting a robotics club at South Carroll High School where he [teaches] math. We started with 10 members, a $2,000 grant from Bechtel and support from PIE3 — a Carroll County non-profit dedicated to promoting robotics education in Carroll County.”
Tom Lee said the membership peaked after receiving a grant from the Maryland State Department of Education.
“This year we’ve received grants totally over $9,000 and have competed with three robots. We compete in a league called FIRST Tech Challenge. Each year, FIRST designs a different challenge to be played by high school teams all over the world. A new game is revealed in early September and qualifier matches begin in December as teams compete for spots in the state tournament.”
In preparation for the qualifiers, the club met after school daily for two hours, with two teams qualifying for states. In addition to the Gold Team’s second-place finish, the Silver Team finished fifth.
The Roar of the Robots, a multi-grade level local competition, brought out teams that demonstrated their STEM skills and teamwork with homemade robots that solved problems of an extraterrestrial scale.
“Each team has someone who can do the mechanical assembly and a couple who can do the programming,” Sean Lee said. “They do all their own building and programming in a language called JAVA. The younger kids learn from the older kids, passing down the knowledge.”
He explained that the students must follow specific criteria.
“They have to keep the robot within an 18-by-18-inch cube and this year they added a weight limit of 45 pounds,” he said. “Every year there are scoring elements they have to figure out, like pulleys or rack and pinion systems. The kids brainstorm and sometimes come up with completely different ideas. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t.”
Team leader Mat Erickson, a senior who has been a member of the club for four years, said kids who join the RoboCavs don’t have to have a robotics background.
“As long as you have a technical inclination of sorts and it is something that interests you, anyone can learn,” he said. “We have lots of experienced members who go through this with new members and they can shadow a team.”
Drew Melis, a senior in his second year with RoboCavs, spoke of the satisfaction of working together with his teammates.
“I like working with my hands and being able to build something dynamic,” Melis said. “It is very satisfying seeing it all come together right before competition.
Erickson said participation has shaped his future.
“I’ve always had an interest in technical things, computers and programming ant things like that,” he said. “Initially, I thought I would pursue an IT career. But, next year, I will go to University of Maryland College Park to study electrical engineering. My decision was definitely influenced by the club.”
According to Tom Lee, Erickson is not the first.
“In our six years of existence, 43 of our graduates either are in college, or have graduated for college, studying engineering or science,” he said. “Our club began with 10 members. Today there are 55.”
Erickson spoke of the challenge they faced at the states tournament, working under the competition theme of space, which carries out through all competitions for the year.
“Rover Rucus was the title of the competition.” he said. “We had to build a robot that could pick up balls and blocks and put them in a center spot called a lander. There is a period in the beginning of the game where the robot has to move by itself, and that’s pretty programming heavy. It had to pick out a ball out of set of balls and cubes. We deposited a team marker in the corner of the field and had to park in a crater in another part of the field.”
Junior Aiden Yeo, three years with the RoboCavs, said it was awesome to compete with so many amazing teams at the state competition.
“Robotics has made a massive impact on my ability to express my creativity,” Yeo said. “Going to the World Championship will give me a chance to network with potential future colleagues and/or employers.”
The world championship will be spread out over the course of three days with multiple activities and competitions, the world’s largest celebration of STEM for students. It brings together tens of thousands of students from around the world with the educators, industry professionals, sponsors, organizations, and colleges/universities who support them in a celebration of STEM inspiration and space exploration.
“I have a degree in engineering and my dad does, too, but the amount of hands-on practical engineering they do is amazing,” he said of his teams. “I don’t think I was ever as good as they are. Putting stuff together, making it work and programming it … it is amazing to see how much they know.”
The kids are up to the challenge.
“We are one of the best teams in Maryland and are currently working to improve our robot,” Melis said. “This is new to all of us so no one knows what to expect but I’m sure we will be prepared.”
To help fund the team’s trip, visit their GoFundMe page online at