The McManus Middle School robotics team made the most of its home-field advantage at a VEX IQ competition hosted at the school on Jan. 13.
The McManus team – comprised of four smaller teams, each of which entered its own robot – competed against 70 other robotics teams from around New Jersey and elsewhere. School officials said that although McManus has been hosting this competition for the past three years, this is the first year the teams entered and came in fifth, 11th, 24th and 32nd.
Coach Mark Decastro said, “The good thing is that they were exposed to other schools from across the state and they did pretty well. At first, they were nervous. They saw all these elaborate and huge robots. I told them it’s not about how your robot looks, it’s how it works.”
Superintendent Danny A. Robertozzi was impressed with the team’s performance.
“For their first time out, this is extraordinary,” he said. “I hope we can continue to get more involved in the robotics competitions because it gets students interested in engineering and technology in a fun way beyond the classroom.”
VEX IQ is the predominant sponsor of scholastic robotics. This year’s competition is known as Ring Master, in which teams score points by stacking colored rings on a 4-by-8-foot playing field. The competition consisted of 10 rotations, and after the first rotation, the McManus team (comprised by Jovanny Bosque and Alex Lopez) came in first place.
“That was a good confidence builder, because after they saw they were doing well compared to the robots from other towns, they started getting more competitive,” Decastro said. “You could actually see their confidence go up.”
Decastro said he appreciated that other faculty members, including Principal Peter Fingerlin and Vice Principal Wayne Happel, came out on a cold Saturday to cheer the team on. This was the last regular-season competition of the year, and McManus’ team did not compete enough to move on to regional championships. However, now that they’ve had a taste of success, Decastro hopes to enter more competitions next year.
“The kids really liked it,” he said. “And it’s spreading, because now the seventh-graders are talking about how they’re looking forward to it next year.”
Photo Caption: The McManus Middle School robotics team: From left, Kelvin Alarcon, Jah-kee Scott, Jovanny Bosque, Ryan Creary, coach Mark Decastro, Alex D. Lopez, Tyler Gobel and Hiba Fattouh.