I’m writing you all to discuss a very disturbing turn of events that occurred at the Nationals. As many of you may have noticed, our robot (team 95, the Grasshoppers) had many problems and did not function as well as we had hoped. At one point, we weren’t sure we would be able to play at all. However, due to a very kind supplier we managed to limp onto the field and play most of our matches. (more on that in another post) We thought that at least we would have a chance to show some of the results of all of our very hard work. One of the features we had hoped to demonstrate is a jack system that releases when the match is done and the power is off, lifting us up above the top of the ramp so our wheels (which had been spanning both sides of the plastic, resting on the mesh to keep us there) will no longer be touching. The bottom of the jack is a flat piece of plywood, which we figured, could extend beyond the edge of the plastic in the same plane as the surface, even if we weren’t perfectly centered, and we would still gain the 25 points. It worked at the Manchester regionals, to the delight of all, including Dean (we have a picture of him with a big smile looking at it). In our only opportunity to do this at the nationals, it looked as if we had succeeded, but for some unknown reason at the time, the referee didn’t give us the points, and we lost the match and a potential 280 qualifying points. We were flabbergasted, thinking it was just a bad ref call. Unfortunately, it was much worse than that. We later found out that the ramps at the nationals had been altered from the published plans, and from the way they had been at the regional. The HDPE no longer was a half inch above the mesh, which we were told by Woody at the kickoff (I have him on tape saying this). Instead, a new strip of metal had been tack welded onto the top of the mesh and now extended above the plastic, so a flat plane extending beyond the plastic would now touch metal. No team updates had ever, to my knowledge, announced this. If so, I stand corrected, please ignore the rest of this post. To us, it was devastating. Our whole robot design stemmed from this playing field feature. I am at a loss to understand how FIRST could change an important characteristic of the playing field, at the last minute. This is not a simple “tolerance” issue, it’s a new piece on the ramp we were never told about. FIRST could have ameliorated this condition by allowing a touch to the top lip of the metal, but they didn’t.
FIRST holds the teams to a very high standard of accuracy in obeying their rules, as anyone can see during inspection. A variation of a millimeter, or a few ounces, will disqualify a robot. What they did here seems to me to be a double standard.
I am now in the very uncomfortable position, when trying to recruit coaches, (a homework assignment from Dean, by the way) of having to explain this double standard. Not to mention having to explain it to our sponsors. Not to mention having to explain it to our kids, who worked so hard, only to have the wind knocked out of them when we had our only chance to shine. Something along the lines of “FIRST is really a great thing, but you should expect to be blindsided by some change in the rules or playing field, and all of your work might go down the drain.” Would you join up with that caveat? This is not the first time we have experienced last minute rule changes, confusing and conflicting rules, etc., such as the rotating light debacle this year, and the number of cylinders allowed and the tether rule last year, and countless other waffles, flip flops, and avoidable ambiguities.
I love the basic idea of FIRST and what it does for our kids. Like many of you, I have devoted hundreds even perhaps thousands of hours over the past several years to FIRST. Events such as these unfortunately make me question whether to keep doing this.
I realize that some of you may accuse me of being a crybaby, but I’ll take that risk. I don’t think so. Some will say “this is what the real world is like.” In the real world, I would stop dealing with a company that did this sort of thing.
Here’s what I propose: I invite the FIRST community to respectfully protest what I feel is irresponsible, ungracious, unprofessional behavior on the part of those at FIRST who are responsible for these things. FIRST, PLEASE DON’T DO THIS KIND OF THING ANYMORE. This sort of behavior will eventually turn a lot of us away from you, at a time you are trying to grow. I am sure there are many of us, myself included, who would be happy to serve as advisors about these things. And I believe you owe a few kids an apology.
Coach/Mentor, Team 95