Basement Lions motor to FIRST World Championship


Erica Jiang, Staff Writer

“It was a bit surreal — no Horace Mann robotics team has ever advanced to the world championships, and we were jumping up and down with excitement,” Justin Gurvitch (12) said.

The school’s FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) 5806 Robotics Team, otherwise known as the Basement Lions, began competing in the FIRST Championship event in Houston, Texas this Wednesday. The team qualified for the event, a four-day robotics championship, after winning the FIRST New York City Regional Robotics competition on April 10 for the first time in the team’s history. 

The team began preparing for the competition in January, when FIRST released this year’s game, FRC co-captain Lucca Correia (12) said. This year’s task is to pick up and shoot balls and climb monkey bars, he said. During their first week of preparation, the team analyzed the game and brainstormed the framework needed to build their robot, Correia said. 

In preparation for competition, the team built a robot that successfully used active intake, a mechanism designed to pick up game elements using rotational motion powered by a motor to pick up, store, and shoot balls into two hoops of different heights, Correia said. Additionally, their robot was tested on its abilities to ascend three monkey bars, he said.

Throughout the building process, team members were split into two main groups: Hardware and Programming, team member Ellen Wang (9) said. Hardware was responsible for building the robot and Programming was responsible for the electronics that operated it, she said.

Due to disruptions from the pandemic, this year’s team is relatively young and largely composed of students who are new to FRC robotics. However, their lack of experience did not derail the team, FRC co-captain Justin Gurvitch (12) said. “The plus side is that we have dedicated students across the board, so people pick up on things quickly,” he said. 

The team began the regional competition by going through preliminary qualifications with randomized alliances, Gurvitch said. An alliance is made up of three teams who work with each other for each round, he said. Though the team experienced technological difficulties early on, by the time preliminaries ended, their robot was performing well, Gurvitch said. 

After the preliminaries, other teams started to take notice of the Basement Lions, Gurvitch said. “In later rounds, high-ranking teams like Stuyvesant came over and showed their interest in teaming up with us because of how well we did in preliminaries,” he said. “It was an amazing surprise, it’s never happened to Horace Mann before, we’ve never been chosen by the highest seeded alliance.” 

The Basement Lions also teamed up with Queens Technical High School’s team, The RoboTigers, for the rest of the regional tournament, Wang said.

In the pit, a designated space for teams to work on their robot, the team was always ready to modify their robot after each round, Gurvitch said. “Everyone understood what to do in between rounds and were always ready to go,” he said. “To see a team work with such cohesion speaks to the growth of the team since January.” 

In order to fix their robot between matches, the team had to stay calm, Correia said. “You have as little as 20 minutes between matches, so we needed to come up with solutions to each problem as quickly as we could.” 

As a result of winning the regional tournament, all three teams in the alliance progressed to the championship event, Gurvitch said. “The competition was fast-paced and intense, much like a car race is,” he said. 

Although the competition was intense, it was also a great venue to make connections, Wang said. During the finals, the team constantly communicated with StuyPulse and the RoboTigers, she said. “I’m super grateful for their support, I made lifelong friendships with the teams there.” 

The team has moved on to the championships in Houston where they are facing steep competition, Gurvitch said. “One team in Houston has their workshop at the Johnson Space Center and learns from mentors who work at NASA,” he said. 

The team’s advisor, Robotics Lab Manager Fred Levy, was very proud of the team’s dedication and hard work, he said. “They’ve made tremendous accomplishments with very little FIRST experience,” he said. “If you weren’t a senior, you had no experience, yet everyone managed to learn everything they needed in order to get ready — [it] was remarkable.”

Levy hopes the team will take away life lessons from their trip, he said. “I hope they leave Houston with a lifetime inspiration that you really can do whatever you want to do if you work hard at it.”