‘Junkyard Battalion’ takes 1st place at robotics event

By LISA CAPOBIANCO
STAFF WRITER
Innovative, fun, and family-bond are just three words that describe the reasons why members of ‘The Junkyard Battalion’ at E.C. Goodwin Technical High School think students should explore the world of robotics.
Founded in 2010 by a group of students and the late math instructor Bernie Platz, FIRST Robotics Team 3718—The Junkyard Battalion—recently took first place in the FIRST Robotics New England Division Pioneer Valley Competition in Springfield, Mass.
Creating alliances with other robotics teams from Groton and Granby during that competition, the Junkyard Battalion took first place for the first time ever.
The team competed against over 30 others. The team hopes to participate in the district championship event in April.
This year, the team had six weeks to build a 6-foot robot that could lift, stack and lift more than one item.
“It was phenomenal,” said sophomore Sebastian Ziemak, the driver captain for The Junkyard Battalion. “It was really surprising, but I knew we could win because the amount of trust we have for the team and how we think as one mind.”
“It was great to see other teams,” said Elena Suddenko, a junior who serves as secretary of The Junkyard Battalion. “The fact that we worked with alliances…was a big part of working together, communication skills.”
For team mentors Joe and Shirley Carcia, seeing The Junkyard Battalion come in first place brought a proud feeling. Their son Anthony currently works on the build team of The Junkyard Battalion.
“They all have a unique, special talent that they can bring to the team,” said Joe, adding how the team has received immense support from the school principal. “It proved that they can work together with other teams.”
Shirley added that the team also exhibited “gracious professionalism,” a virtue that FIRST encourages students to have during the competitions.
“They are our future,” said Shirley.
The Junkyard Battalion consists of three teams: spirit, drive and build teams. The spirit team is responsible for applying for grants, fund raising, raising  moral and designing the team’s accessories. The drive team operates the robot during the competition while the build team constructs and programs the robot. From Bristol to New Britain to Southington and Newington, a variety of local communities are represented on the team.
Membership of the team itself is currently growing. Although its sponsorship has seen a decline, current sponsors include United Technologies, Stanley Black and Decker, and Aetna.
Aside from building and operating a robot, The Junkyard Battalion also is involved with community outreach, such as working with local robotics team Operation P.E.A.C.E. to spread awareness of STEM to younger children.
After the passing of math instructor Bernie Platz, Steven Massey, head of the electronics department who is an adviser for the team, wanted to keep the team going. Other advisers include Fred Hernandez and Steve Donaghy.
“The kids were very passionate at that point and I did not want to see the team dissolve,” said Massey. “It’s extremely important for our students to move onto careers in STEM. The opportunities for high school students who have been involved in robotics…is tremendous in the forms of scholarship and grants for college.”
After high school, Sebastian said he plans to attend college with the hope of pursuing a degree in engineering.
Elena, who has always enjoyed building and working as a team, hopes to pursue a career in engineering
“Robotics does inspire me to be a part of engineering and a part of STEM,” said Elena, adding how robotics can inspire students to pursue a certain career path.
Looking ahead, Massey hopes more funding from the state will be provided for advisors to “step up in all the technical high schools.” Massey added sponsorship also is important.
“These are our future leaders, our future engineers,” said Massey. “For corporations to fund robotics programs is one of the best ways they can give back to the community and help themselves as they’re building future employees.”
Joe said he hopes to see the team become sustainable.
“We want to see [the team] flourish,” said Joe. “We want to be able to say there’s a legacy for this team.”
The Junkyard Battalion is actively seeking sponsors. For more information about The Junkyard Battalion, visit http://roboticsteam3718.org/wp/. The team also set up a GOFUNDME page to assist them in getting to Worcester Polytechnic Institute. For more information, visit http://www.gofundme.com/p2wrck.
Comments? Email lcapobianco@BristolObserver.com.