NE FIRST

Brainstorming at Maryland Tech Invitational

On July 31st and August 1st 2021, FIRST Tech Challenge teams from around the world gathered at the Maryland Tech Invitational (referred to as MTI). This was the first in-person competition for several teams outside of their virtual tournaments this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. NE FIRST sat down with MTI Finalists, FTC-8644 Brainstormers, to talk about their experience at the event and this season.

Tell us about your team’s season, and precautions taken in order to be safe at meetings.
The Brainstormers FTC 8644, a home based team of friends from several towns near Lexington, MA, was excited to play at the Maryland Tech Invitational as it was the first in-person competition of the year.  All year we competed in Massachusetts and Vermont remotely.  It was a huge challenge this year to compete and work as many of our families have local grandparents who we were all trying to protect from exposure.  To do this, the team studied a few epidemiological models and choose the model published by the WFTDA (Women’s Roller Derby) which specifically addressed how to access risk based on the locations of league and team play/practice.  The team used these benchmarks to calculate weekly if the group would meet outdoors (masked) or not at all.  So our meetings went from being outdoors in the fall, masked to being remote and only two people meeting for about an hour at a time in a heavy ventilated room.  It was a huge challenge for us to shift work around the team members and make progress.  All the team got vaccinated as soon as they could so we could start working again (masked until the last person was fully vaccinated) indoors for the first time after the MA state championship.  Being together finally has been the best feeling!  We celebrated with an outdoor water balloon fight!

Why is MTI so special in the FIRST Tech Challenge Community? How did your team do?
MTI is a special event as it invites the best performing robot teams from the World to apply to attend.  Since Worlds is split, there are teams attending that you would never compete against and that makes the competition really exciting.  The Brainstormers were excited to be the Finalists in the competition this year.  We attended not only because we were interested in this level of competition, but as we had our first graduating senior for this group, we wanted to travel to one competition for the camaraderie one last time and have her compete in her last competition (which she drove!).

Do you have any advice to any team, new or old, who might be reading this?
Our advice to teams?  Focus on each other and why you do this.  Working hard on a problem with people you like forges deep friendships that will last the rest of your life.  Friends are so important when times are stressful, like this last year.  Find ways to celebrate each other instead of divisions over robot decisions.  When the winter seemed so dark and we couldn’t see each other for months, we organized a gift swap that we did over Zoom – making the coach pick names.  Our coach picked up and delivered all the gifts that were then opened together and resulted in a big guessing game on who gave what.  It was hilarious as some girls wrapped things to make it look like a boy had done it and the boys went all out with ribbons and glitter to confuse the girls on their packaging.  The answers on who the giver was often surprised people at how much care and thought had gone into knowing the perfect item.  This strengthened our team and every time we focus on each other, things go well.

NE FIRST would love to thank Brainstormers for taking the time out of their day to talk to us. We wish all FTC teams the best of luck in their next season! Click the following links to watch matches from Day 1 and Day 2 ! Read more about MTI on their official website.