By Scott Robertson
Science Hill High School’s robotics team finished in the elite eight at the FIRST robotics Smoky Mountain Regional Saturday in Knoxville, upsetting the tournament’s top team along the way.
It took 85 qualifying matches between constantly shifting alliances of 51 teams from eight states to determine who would make the playoffs. At the end of that long round of qualifying, Science Hill’s team stood among the eight teams to captain their own alliances in the final tournament. Finishing in the top eight allows a team to draft its two allies for the playoffs. Teams outside the top eight must wait and hope they are chosen.
Once the playoffs began, the Hilltoppers’ alliance with Bearden High School from Knoxville and Kell High School from Marietta, Ga., immediately upset the top-ranked team, Hardin Valley, and its allied teams in the first quarterfinal match, before losing in the second to finish seventh for the tournament, Science Hill’s highest finish ever. The Hilltoppers have made the semi-finals once before, but that was as a chosen ally of a top eight team.
The team was confident it would be in position to choose its alliance partners this year, said Vivian Chang, team captain. “We scouted the other teams, making notes about what each team’s robot could do and how they would work with us.” In the end, Science Hill chose two teams they had allied with in their best qualifying rounds.
Patty McFadden, co-coach said the team earned every bit of its success.
“They really outdid themselves,” McFadden said. “They worked so hard and they competed fabulously. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
Jenny Brock, Johnson City city commissioner and a longtime robotics team supporter made the trip to the Knoxville Convention Center to watch the team compete. “They gave it their all,” Brock said. “I’m so proud of them.”
Not coincidentally, the team’s most successful season in competition came in its most successful fund-raising year. “Franklin Woods Community Hospital and Johnson City Medical Center really stepped up to partner with us this year. They have been great friends of the team and we look forward to working with them again,” McFadden said. “We also had some returning friends in Eastman Chemical Co., who have been very gracious to us the entire history of our team. NN Inc., has sponsored us two years in a row and we really appreciate them.”
Johnson City Power Board returned as a sponsor this year, as did Mullican Flooring, joined by new sponsors Creative Energy, ETSU’s College of Business and Technology and Church Brothers. Brock and Carlton Jones were individual sponsors. Fundraising for 2016 has already begun, McFadden said. “We appreciate our sponsors. We appreciate our parents. We appreciate any help we get from anyone.”