A Crash Course in Excellence

Note: A couple people have suggested to me that I condense the individual threads into one in order to not spam CD. Taking that advice, I have deleted my previous posts and all future updates will be occurring here. The first three posts in this new thread are carried over from my previous ones.

A Crash Course In Excellence: Series Announcement

With the recent announcement by the FRC that all suspended events are now cancelled, I suspect many of us are figuring out ways to spend the summer. I know for myself, I am hoping to do a bunch of things to keep me occupied, some personal and some for fun. When it comes to things done for fun, I decided that since I am both an FRC fan and a history major that I would combine the two and share the results on CD in the form of a series of posts.

Before it shut down, the website Deadspin had a hilarious (albeit fairly profane) yearly column known as “Why Your Team Sucks,” in which the writer would talk about how every single NFL team fell short the previous season in order to count down for the next one. I want my column to be similar to that one, but instead of explaining why teams suck I want to highlight some of the reasons they are awesome and why other teams should look to them as examples. I want my posts in this series to be full of insight, yet also full of gracious professionalism.

Though I very much wish I could write about every team, I have decided to write on those that have qualified for Einstein at least once in their career. I realize this is a massive project, so in order to preserve my mental sanity and reduce my workload I have made the following rules for the series.

  1. Due to a lack of data for the stone age of the FRC I will only be writing on the teams that have qualified for Einstein since 2002, with the exception of the winners of the National Championship before then. If I were to write about every team that made the Championship from 1992-2000, this project would be a lot longer. Just as many baseball analysts really only focus on everything since the live-ball era and football analysts really focus on everything past the first Super Bowl, so I am doing with the FRC.
  2. This column will not be utilizing analytics or mathematical measures of teams’ success. As you will see, not every team to qualify for Einstein has won more matches than they’ve lost. These posts instead will seek to explain, in simpler terms, what makes these Einstein teams great looking at everything from their performance on-field to their contributions off of it. Of course, data is a big part of that. I will be using TBA and CD to research, but I cannot guarantee a full analysis of every single team if there isn’t much data. Consider this more as a history lesson than a guide on how to reach the Einstein Field.
  3. Since the format of Einstein has changed quite a bit since 2002, I’ve tried to arrange it all in one framework. For the round robin tournament, I consider being on the 5th and 6th place alliances as a quarterfinals appearance, and a 3rd and 4th place as a semifinals showing. On another note, the all-time win loss record includes eliminations and the championship, and does not include 2015.

There are 248 teams I have to get through on this list. This means I will be posting about three posts a day for every day of the summer, and maybe four on some days. I will be beginning with the team that has the fewest number of quarterfinals appearances, with the most recent being the longest time ago, and ending with the team with the most championship wins, with the most recent being the shortest time ago. Should be fun!

So, if you’re interested I will be posting the first few posts sometime this afternoon or evening! Also, if you were or are part of an Einstein team and want to share insight with me please message me that info. Up first will be Team 20.


A Crash Course in Excellence: 20

The Team: 20, The Rocketeers, of Clifton Park, New York.

Their All-Time Record: 353-198-6, or a .64 win percentage.

Their Accomplishments: At the regional level they have had 12 wins, with an additional 7 finalist appearances, and at the Championship level they have 1 divisional title. On the team side of things, they have also had 4 Woodie Flowers Finalists and 3 Dean’s List Finalists. They also won the “Most Photogenic Award” at the 1993 Championship, which has to count for something, right?

Their Pre-Einstein History: 20 is an original and sustaining team. First premiering at the 1992 Championship, they have been around for a very long time. Before their appearance on Einstein in 2015 they were a team that was generally good on the field, but did not always fare well in the eliminations. It took them ten years to win a regional for the first time, but as you will see later in the series they are not alone in this category. Before their Einstein year, 20’s most successful seasons came in 2008, 2013, and 2014. As they are an original and sustaining team they are automatically invited to the Championship every year, and on a few occasions (such as 2008 and 2014) they reached the semifinals. However, it was never as the captain and they never found much success in 2015.

What Made Them Great: Team 20 did not build an assuming robot for Recycle Rush. They had snuck into the finals of the New York Tech Valley Regional only to be beat up by 195 and fell to a third pick in the Finger Lakes Regional just a week later. Their robot was capable of creating stacks, but it had not yet found success. Here’s a picture of it!

Keeping this in mind makes their win on the Carson Division even more incredible. 20 performed respectably, ranking 46th out of 75 teams, and found their way into the eliminations as the second pick of the second alliance. Though the division was initially thought to be all but over, once 254’s alliance was knocked out in the quarterfinals Carson became an open contest. 20 was initially picked due to its ability to build stacks of five from the chute and for its bin grabbers, but the grabbers were not fast and their chute capability quickly conflicted with partners 1325 and 3339 during the eliminations.

The Rocketeers were on the field for just one match in the quarterfinals before being swapped with 1711 for the rest of the eliminations, once it became clear that having fast bin grabbers was the key to winning. Though they never touched the Einstein Field during their quarterfinals appearance, 20 became the first New York team since 1507 in 2009 to qualify for the big dance. 20’s story shows us that even when you’re not the best at a game mechanic, there is always a chance to get picked for a wild ride.

What Makes Them Great: Ever since their Einstein appearance, 20 has only gotten better. They followed up 2015 with a solid campaign in 2016, in which they led the 5th alliance to victory at Finger Lakes. The team has been a part of an alliance at the Championship ever since their magical season, and the last two times they have been a captain. 2019 was one of their most successful seasons yet, and is an example of how their robots have become more complex and better at playing the game, yet more controllable. Improving their robots and their control systems led to them taking the first seed and a win at both of their regionals during Deep Space, and to continuing success for their team. Their Einstein appearance has proved to be a stepping stone, and they’ve been improving in order to get back there someday soon. This example is telling: Getting to Einstein can improve even a third pick robot that never plays a match on the field.

Did You Know?: 20 made videos for the Animation Award from 2010-2015. You can see all of them here.

Chief Delphi, what do YOU think makes Team 20 great? Write it in the comments!

This concludes the post. Up next: 337.


A Crash Course In Excellence: 337

The Team: 337, The Hard Working Hard Hats, of Logan, West Virginia.

Their All-Time Record: 267-247-9, or a win percentage of .52.

Their Accomplishments: Three regional wins, with two finalist appearances. On the Championship side of things, they have one divisional title and were finalists for another. For team related awards, they have racked up seven Engineering Inspiration Awards and two Chairman’s Awards.

Their Pre-Einstein History: Safety has always been the name of the game for 337. Since they formed in 2000, they have won the Industrial Safety Award an incredible 23 times, with four of those times being at the Championship level. That’s quite fitting for a team named The Hard Working Hard Hats. Their numerous EI Awards also show just how much effort they put into not only safety, but engineering education and their community.

337 has always been a team more well-known for its safety and outreach more than its robots. Before 2015, the team had won just two regionals in its history, though they also had been a divisional finalist on Curie in 2005. Before their Einstein run, 2008 was probably their most successful season on the field. They were never totally terrible, but outside of a few cases anything past a quarterfinals appearance was rare for this West Virginia team.

What Made Them Great: 337 was by no means a world-class robot in 2015, but they still reached the Einstein field. They were a second pick at every event they went to and their robot was not fast. They saw both good and bad at their two regionals: They won their first at Greater Pittsburgh and went out in the quarterfinals in Queen City. Throughout the season The Hard Working Hard Hats began focusing on bins and some totes, which turned into a capability of stacking from the chute. Also, though their bin grabbers were not the fastest in the world they were reliable, and this gave them an advantage for the Championship.

Though the Hard Working Hard Hats seeded in the middle of the field on Carver, they did enough to get noticed by the Hawaiian dynamic duo of 359 and 368. 337 was on the field for the first quarterfinals match, but after one of their bin grabbers did not lift back up they struggled in what would be their only match in the eliminations. For the remainder of the tournament, 337 was swapped with 144; a team they had actually partnered with to win the Greater Pittsburgh Regional just weeks earlier. This pairing proved to be successful again, as 337 won the division and though they never played a match on Einstein, they would be the only team from West Virginia to ever reach the field until 2614 did in 2019.

What Makes Them Great: 337 did not experience a transformation after their Einstein appearance. In fact, since 2015 they’ve qualified for the Championship just once, and they were not selected for eliminations. However, they have shown excellence by continuing to be a beacon of safety in the FRC, and their outreach has not diminished. Since their lucky Championship 337 has won Industrial Safety at all but two of their regionals, as well as an Engineering Inspiration in 2018. Though they are not the team known for having great robots, they are another example proving that teams do not have to focus on making their robots better in order to reach the Einstein Field. 337 is known for something else entirely, and yet their hard work resulted in an appearance on Einstein.

Chief Delphi, what do YOU think makes Team 337 great? Write it in the comments!

This concludes the post. Up next: 359.


Note: After yesterday, I can say with complete confidence that churning out three posts a day is totally unsustainable. I’m looking for quality over quantity for these posts, and as such I am walking back my previous statement that these will be done by the end of the summer. Better to have one really good article a day than three mediocre articles a day.

A Crash Course In Excellence: 359

The Team: 359, The Hawaiian Kids, of Waialua, Hawaii.

Their All-Time Record: 572-214-4, or a .73 win percentage.

Their Accomplishments: Get ready for a mouthful. 27 regional wins, with an additional seven finalist appearances, and one divisional banner. They also won the Chairman’s Award at the Championship in 2011, and also won the Championship Engineering Inspiration Award in 2008. They have had three Woodie Flowers Finalists (one of whom won the actual award in 2017) and four Dean’s List Finalists (one of whom won in 2013). Their 37 blue banners ties them for seventh most in FRC history.

Their Pre-Einstein History: 359’s history before their Einstein run can be summarized as having an electric start as a rookie, struggling in the mid-2000s, and cementing their place in the top tier of the FRC in the early 2010s. The Hawaiian Kids first competed at a regional in 2000, and won the Silicon Valley Regional in 2001 and 2002. Afterwards, it took them eight years to win another regional. They had plenty of regional finalist appearances during that period, but they were more well known as a Chairman’s team than a team with world-class robots. This changed in 2010, when 359 won all three of their regionals. They followed it up with another solid season in 2011, which brought forth two more regional wins, as well as their entry into the Hall of Fame by winning the Chairman’s Award. It was after this year that 359 became widely recognized as a powerhouse team.

It’s worth noting that the Hawaiian Kids have had a better track record abroad than in their home state. Of their 27 regional wins, 20 have been at an event other than Hawaii. Despite the contrast between their record at home and their record abroad, 359 was a monster in the years leading up to their Einstein run. In 2012, they began a streak of 12 regional wins outside of Hawaii. However, they could never translate their success at the regional level to the Championship. They took the top alliance in their division to a tiebreaker match in the semifinals in both 2012 and 2014 only to lose both times, and in 2013 they went out in the quarterfinals after the field was scorched by another team we’ll talk about later in the series. 359 was very, very good, though just about the only thing they had never done was go to Einstein by the time 2015 rolled around.

What Made Them Great: 359’s 2015 robot was a very good robot. Their machine, like many teams that season, progressed as time went on. They were able to build stacks of four, then five, then six, and could put up anywhere from two to three stacks per match. The Hawaiian Kids fared well during the regular season, winning Inland Empire, Australia, and Hawaii. During Hawaii 359 added a ramp tethered to their robot, making the process of building tote stacks easier.

359 was in a small class among the world’s best teams in the sense that they did not develop bin grabbers for the Championship. Their robot focused on building from the chute alone, and it earned them the 11th rank in the division. During eliminations the team was picked by 368, another Hawaiian team that it had teamed up with to win the Hawaii Regional that year, and the combination could not have been better. Even before 2015 the two teams had shown excellent chemistry in the past, as all of 359’s wins in Hawaii up to that point had been with 368 by their side. I’ll talk more about 368’s robot in the next post, so for now all you need to know is that its landfill capabilities allowed 359 to do what it did best and build from the chute. Their partners, 337 and 144, were also chute robots, and this allowed each of the robots on the alliance to play to their strengths. This maximization of efficiency, coupled with underwhelming performances by the alliances of 971 and 1986, propelled this alliance to the finals. There, the Hawaiian Kids defeated 233’s alliance and reached the Einstein Field for the first time ever. Though their strategy had worked on Carver, the lack of bin-grabbing speed from the alliance led to a quick exit in the quarterfinals of the final stage.

What Makes Them Great: Since their Einstein run, 359 has continued to put forth an excellent effort with their robots and their outreach. When it comes to the competition, they have had some great moments at both the regional and championship level in the last few years. Their regional win streak on the mainland continued for another three seasons, ending only last year at the Del Mar Regional. They have won the Hawaii Regional twice since their time on Einstein, once with their alliance partner 368. At the Championship level, they were division finalists in 2017 on Darwin. In 2018 they eliminated defending world champion 973 in the quarterfinals of Hopper. When it comes to outreach, recently 359 has been using their workshop to make face masks and face shields in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve been doing well for themselves and good for others.

There has been one more celebration of their excellence since Einstein. In 2017 one of their mentors, Glenn Lee (pictured above), won the Woodie Flowers Award (though for a reason I’ve never figured out, the award was announced at the Championship 359 was not attending). You can read more about him here.

Did You Know?: In the tie breaking finals match in 2018 at Montreal, 359 is on the record as winning with a score of 1-0. This is not because it was the worst FRC match ever played, but because the scale continued to count points after the end of the match. The match was the last one of the event, and instead of replaying it the referees awarded the match to 359’s alliance, which had been leading at the end of the match. As the exact score could not be remembered, the score was adjusted.

Chief Delphi, what do YOU think makes Team 359 great? Write it in the comments!

This concludes the post. Up next: 368.