Homeschool Robotics Team Wins World Championship

Homeschool Robotics Team Wins World Championship

by Lee Ann Bisulca

On April 17-18, 2008, a team of seven homeschooled high schoolers swept the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) World Championship in Atlanta, Georgia, taking home a Winning Alliance Team trophy and the Amaze Award (awarded by the judges to a team whose uniqueness sets it apart from all other award categories). Team Overdrive, from Bridgewater, New Jersey, won four regional tournaments (an FTC record) during the season and racked up the two highest scores ever in the championships.

Team members Kevin Fritz, Tyler Moser, Gina Scalzo, Marissa Scalzo, David Schmidt, Bethany Shotyk, and James Wittel—with the help of founder and head coach Tom Moser and their team mentors—designed and built two robots this season. They also raised funds from corporate sponsors, presented a robotics demonstration at a children’s hospital, and won two Inspire awards and one Think Award at the regional level.

“It was amazing to win,” says James Wittel, the team’s 16-year-old photographer and one of the robot builders. “I’ve been floating on air. There aren’t many people that can say they were world champions at anything.”

James is one of the original members of the team, which grew out of a computer club formed several years ago. James, Tyler, and Kevin called themselves the Junkyard Kids because they rebuilt computers with parts gleaned from a junkyard. The group morphed into Team Overdrive after Tyler and James competed on other robotics teams and decided to form their own. Team Overdrive’s first season was 2006-07, in which they won a regional tournament and were quarterfinalists in the Atlanta championships.

Team Overdrive is a division of Teen Technology, a nonprofit educational organization formed by the students and their parents. Many of the parents use their expertise as engineers, statisticians, and programmers to serve as team mentors, and the students’ siblings help scout out competing teams at the tournaments.

After their loss in last year’s FTC championship, Team Overdrive was especially motivated to come back this year. “Basically the day the game was announced [in September 2007], we were meeting and already discussing ways of completing the game challenge,” recounts 17-year-old Tyler, the team’s main builder. Team Overdrive’s first robot of the season, MAX III, won a scrimmage and the Ohio State Championship, after which the students decided to develop a second robot, knowing that the competition would get stiffer as the season progressed. While Team Overdrive poured hours into MAX IV, MAX III went on to win the Delaware and New Jersey regionals. By then the team had already qualified for the Atlanta world championships, but they went to the New York City Championship anyway to test out MAX IV—and won.

Less than two weeks later, Team Overdrive arrived in Atlanta. “It’s an amazing feeling to stand in the middle of the Georgia Dome—something you normally only see on TV,” James says. “But when we got out there, we actually went out and lost our first match—in the world competition! We decided that a small change to the robot was in order, and it ended up solving the problem. We proceeded to win all the rounds till the final.”

Ranked third in their division, Team Overdrive was selected to be the alliance partner of the second-seeded team, Mr. T from Montville, New Jersey, for the finals. With the help of Team Overdrive’s scouting data, the two teams chose Beach Cities Robotics from Torrance, California, as their third alliance partner. It proved to be a winning combination, making each of the three teams a world champion after the final round.

“What really makes our team successful, I think, is how the team knows each other,” James comments. “We’re basically like family.” Team Overdrive’s support structure of parents and siblings is noticeable at tournaments: family members all wear bright yellow shirts. In Atlanta, 32 people—including grandparents, aunts, and uncles—showed up to cheer loudly for Team Overdrive from the stands.

“We’re learning and having fun at the same time,” adds Tyler, who hopes to enter computer science or mechanical engineering after graduating from high school. “We’re learning about real-world things like engineering and time management, how to give presentations in front of companies for fundraising, and how to work under pressure. But we’re also having fun with the other homeschooled students that are on the team.”

Another positive for the team is the amount of time they are free to devote to their science and technology interests. “There are times, especially leading up to a competition, when you’re putting in an unbelievable amount of hours,” points out Pat Fritz, whose son, Kevin, helps with the team’s computer and programming needs. “The advantage for us as homeschoolers is that we can put some of our other regular subjects on the back burner if necessary, and get back to them when our robotics schedule calms down again.”

Now that they’ve achieved their goal of winning the FTC World Championship, Team Overdrive is relaxing with a few other projects—“using up extra parts to build little robots that we’ve always wanted to build,” says James, who is interested in pursuing military research and development. The team is also applying for a Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams High School Invention Grant.

And what about next year? The big decision is whether to remain in the FIRST Tech Challenge division or move up to the FIRST Robotics Challenge (FRC), where the robots are considerably larger, and participation is more expensive. “That will mean an enormous increase in fundraising,” says Pat. “That’s a big issue for a homeschool team.” The larger FRC playing field will also mean that Team Overdrive can’t build a complete practice field in a team member’s basement, as they have done at the FTC level.

Whatever they decide, Team Overdrive has proven they can rise to the challenge.

Congratulations to team overdrive! (good team name;) )

As a home schooled student, and member of a mostly home schooled FRC team, I am glad to see fellow home schoolers succeeding and getting recognition.

About the last paragraph:
The move up to FRC is certainly a big one. But you can do it! Team 1519 is evidence that a small team of world champion homeschoolers can start an FRC team.

Great job, and good luck to team Overdrive!

And team 330 has shown that yes, homeschoolers can win the big one. Small team, world champions. (And then there’s their FLL counterparts, the JV BeachBots.)

Thank You!

Our team is still very excited with the win and we are already looking forwards to next year!

Hopefully we will be moving up to FRC next year but that is still to be decided by our team. We are going to need great support from our sponsors and other teams in our area.

Advice and recommendations are much appreciated. :smiley:

So does this mean simbotics LOST the world championship!? :smiley:

Didn’t they win all of the first four FTC championships?


I’m not sure about the past, but this year, Simbotics DID NOT WIN. And, if i’m not mistaken, Simbotics has won the PAST TWO world championships, (considering that there have only been three). This year, probably a couple o’ the most dominant robots were Mr. Roboto and Overdrive.

It funny for the past 2 years I’ve been asked to do the play by play for the NJ FTC championship, and this year i got to watch Overdrive at the NJ Championship as well as in Hightstown for another tournament and both times I swore that Overdrive would win hands down at any competition it attended this year. To Team Overdrive good luck in all future challenges whether it be FTC, Vex or FRC

No, they won the 2006 and 2007 FTC (then FVC) Championships. The 2005 pilot event was won by teams 27, 18, and 48 (all sense renumbered).

I got to see Team Overdrive first hand at the Delaware event, and compete against them in the finals, and let me tell you, they deserve every ounce of praise. If you thought 1114 was dominant in FRC year, you’d be blown away by what 74 did in FTC. As mentioned in the article, they won all 4 regional championships they attended, but they also won (at least) two Inspire Awards (possibly more). The Inspire Award, while be very different, is the closest award in FTC to Chairman’s in FRC, given to the team judged to best embody the ‘challenge’.
From a previous FTC (FRV at the time) champion, it’s a pleasure to welcome Team Overdrive to the club.

Team Overdrive was AWESOME this year. It was great to be able to drive against them in the finals, and they certainly had one of the best and most creative designs at the whole championship.

Best of luck to them in the coming year, and I hope to play against them again! :slight_smile:

It was fun to see this posting about Team Overdrive’s history. The article captured our 2008 experience very well. Although it was a lot of work, we are all glad that we made the transition to FRC. The people in FRC are great.

2010 will bring a completely new experience.

Thank you 330 for being an inspiration! I spoke to several of your mentors last summer before we made our decison to go FRC.

Tyler - Sorry I couldn’t resist posting.:ahh:

Congratulations to Tyler (a Senior) on his amazing four years with FIRST. Also, congrats to Marissa, Jonathan, Zach, and David (other Seniors on Team Overdrive).

Blessings. Tyler’s Coach and Dad;)

So do you guys just have winning competitions and building amazing robots in your blood or something? It’s amazing that your team can go from the FTC Uberteam to the FRC world semifinalists in just a year… Seems like you guys are good at this FIRST thing!

I am just speculating here, but as home-schooled students I would believe that they are maximizing their ‘return on investment’ in the science and technology and math benefits of the FIRST program.

Or, put another way: FIRST is a great excuse to do some sorta advanced school work. And have fun, too.


(PS: By ‘Investment’ I mean educational, not financial)

Their team structure and design strategies are actually outstanding. The dedication of the members and mentors is very clear when you talk to them. Its very impressive to compare a well honed FTC structure and direct it into a highly effective FRC program. This was something I was more impressed by than the robot performance.