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Longmont robotics teams dominate at world tournament

Up-A-Creek Robotics’ FRC and FTC teams won world championship titles for taking first place in competitions in Houston on April 23.

Niwot High School senior Asher Behmer’s involvement in Up-A-Creek Robotics for the past four years finally came to a head on April 23 during an international youth robotics competition in Houston, Texas.

Although Behmer competed in the FIRST Championship with Up-A-Creek Robotics as a freshman, he was disappointed when COVID-19 caused the annual robotics tournament to be canceled. Nevertheless, during this time, Behmer shifted his attention from winning competitions to honing in on his leadership and robotics skills, while also acting as Up-A-Creek Robotics’ FRC team’s head of scouting, he said. 

“(Up-A-Creek Robotics) and FIRST competitions are about more than just building robots,” Behmer said. “Students learn beautiful life lessons such as leadership, communication and collaboration from participating in robotics.”

The FRC team was one of two St. Vrain Valley School-based teams from Up-A-Creek Robotics that competed in the FIRST Championship. Both of Up-A-Creek’s teams brought home first place wins from the competition, leading to broken records at the state level, as well as at the FIRST organization — whose mission is “For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” according to its website.

For Behmer, the FRC team’s win at the FIRST Championship wasn’t the only success to occur in Houston. On a personal note, he saw the leadership and robotics skills he’s been working on for the past couple of years become tangible at the tournament — so much so that an employer who witnessed his team’s competitions over the weekend reached out to Behmer about a job opportunity in robotics, Behmer explained. 

Since Up-A-Creek Robotics’ inception in 2005, the program has grown to comprise approximately 150 fourth through 12th grade students, who are primarily from St. Vrain Valley District schools, or SVVSD. Up-A-Creek Robotics is governed by The GEAR Alliance, a nonprofit committed to inspiring young people to pursue STEM careers through competitive robotics, according to the Up-A-Creek Robotics website. 

A total of eight robotics teams from Up-A-Creek Robotics compete in three different types of FIRST Robotics tournaments.

Six teams of fourth through eighth graders participate in Up-A-Creek’s First LEGO League, or FLL. Although none of Up-A-Creek’s six FLL teams competed in the FIRST Championship, the teams performed well at a state-level robotics tournament earlier this year, according to Teresa Ewing, a computer science teacher at Niwot High School who also is a member of Up-A-Creek Robotics’ board of directors. 

Up-A-Creek’s FIRST Robotics Challenge, or FRC team, is made up of 75 high schoolers from across SVVSD. 

After being undefeated during the robotics season, Up-A-Creek’s FRC team qualified for the FIRST Championship this spring. In preparation for the tournament, the team spent several months designing, building and testing a 120 pound, 5’ tall robot, according to Ewing. 

At the FIRST Championship, Up-A-Creek’s FRC team went head to head against 454 other teams from 11 countries in competitions, from which they ranked first place in the FRC division’s qualification matches. Next, the team went undefeated through the playoffs to win the Galileo Division of the tournament. In the finals round, Up-A-Creek’s FRC team selected three other teams — the Cheezy Poofs from California, Knight Vision from Michigan and Fusion Corps from Texas — to compete alongside as an alliance group. By the end of the tournament, the alliance emerged victorious. 

Up-A-Creek Robotics’ FIRST Tech Challenge team, called the FTC team, is composed of 14 SVVSD students from seventh through 12th grades. At the world tournament, Up-A-Creek’s FTC team faced off against 160 teams from 18 countries in rounds where each of the teams’ 18” robots competed on a 12’ by 12’ field. 

Although Up-A-Creek’s FTC team had a difficult beginning to the tournament, Ewing said, the team placed sixth in their division’s qualification matches. From there, Up-A-Creek’s FTC team was chosen by Delta Force from Romania, who placed first in the division, to compete in elimination matches as allied teams along with Java the Huts from Florida.

The alliance went undefeated to win the tournament’s Franklin Division Finals and later outscored the opposing alliance in two out of three closing matches.

By the end of the FIRST Championship, Up-A-Creek Robotics’ FRC and FTC teams had won world championship titles for taking first place in their respective competitions. 

Up-A Creek’s wins mark the first time in FIRST’s history that teams from just one organization have won both the FRC and FTC events in a single year. The tournament also marked the first time a robotics team from Colorado has won a FIRST World Championship.

Besides Up-A-Creek Robotics’ new status as world champions, Niwot High School junior and the FRC team’s technical leader Olga Rokhlenko believes a huge success of the FIRST Championship was getting to meet international competitors, she said. 

“All of us (from Up-A-Creek) were lucky to be able to meet so many new people at the tournament, and learn about everyone’s robots too,” Rokhlenko said.