Pros and Cons of the Championship Event.

I find myself in the apparently enviable position of mentoring an FLL team and an FRC team that are both going to the National Championship this year. The FLL team won the MD Champion’s award, and the FRC team won the Buckeye Engineering Inspiration award.

Clearly this is a great honor and indicates that the teams did a fantastic job at home, and at their regional competitions. It will be a great experience for all involved…

But… I can’t help wondering if the money the teams now have to raise to get to Nationals couldn’t have been better spent on other science / technology programs in our area.

Granted there is no “requirement” to go to Nationals, but once that carrot has been put there and reached, it’s hard to tell the kids that they can’t eat it. I’ll also acknowledge that it’s often easier to get people to donate money for a winning team to represent the area, than for a more generic technology/education project.

However, I’ve also heard anecdotes about teams that have bankrupted themselves going to Nationals, and have not been able to survive for that reason. What a great loss!

I’d like to propose that there could be an alternate reward offered to regional FIRST winners.

What if FIRST made a GRANT available to specific regional/championship award winners to use to further the FIRST cause. This would be akin to the rookie NASA grant, but at the other end of the team life cycle. I would argue that if a team is doing well, and able to win an Engineering Inspiration or Chairman’s Award, then who better to formulate a local program to inspire more involvement in Science and Technology.

This grant would not be limited to a specific FIRST activity, but applicable to any technology area needing to be addressed locally. The grant proposal could be part of an award application, and be evaluated at the regional competition.

We keep being told that “winning at all costs” is not the FIRST way, and I believe the same is true of going to Nationals. I’d love to turn a big regional victory into a project that benefits the entire community and lasts for more than 3 days :smiley:

What do other mentors out there think?

I like the way that you are thinking. FIRST could ask additional questions for the Chairman’s and EI award, asking teams how they would use the grant money to further expand the STEM initiative.

Another idea would be to offset the national registration costs for the Chairman winners or allow them to go free.

I too have had these same kind of thoughts. Going to the championship costs our team roughly $20,000 for flight, hotel and registration fees. Fortunately our team only needs to come up with 1/2 the costs but that is still a chunk of change.

For us, we will only attend if we get there by winning an award and we have the reserve funds already. Going into debt doesn’t work for us.

This year we will be having most team members attending the workshops. It is easier to justify the experience if these prove to be worthwhile.

Great thread, I look forward to the replies.

A point of data: In 2007 after the finals rounds, it was announced that the South Carolina-based winners of the Palmetto Regional (342 and 1319) would receive a grant from the Department of Education (if I remember, the CATE department) to cover the $5,000 registration fee. It might be a starting point for others, though I’d encourage them to get the off-field winners (Chairman’s, EI, Rookie All-Star) in on the act as well.

This year, 1885 going to Atlanta is not only stressful on our funds, but also stressful on our time. We have something we’re doing in addition to FRC and it hits the weekend after Atlanta. We have an idea of how we’re going to pull it off and we just gotta stick to the schedule.

Motivated by our Engineering Inspiration Award win at VCU, most of the students got together over their Spring Break to do a bit of fundraising. The funds they raised that day were about 5% of the total cost…not much, but every bit helps. They also have alot of approvals for donations of things they can raffle. I’m not sure exactly what these things are, but the raffle itself can take place after Atlanta and tickets may be sold immediately.

A grant idea is a decent idea in some respects. At most, I would say any grant should cover the registration fee and no more. The paradox is that if your team really is inspiring the local students, community, and businesses then funds to go to the championships shouldn’t be that hard to acquire if you put forth the effort. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the community that supports an activity will pay for that activity. Just look at the football team. However, in more rural communities where sponsors are sparse I may understand the sentiment of having an allowed grant. The question is…where do you draw the line? What exactly would qualify a team for this grant?

Do we allow teams with large fundraising opportunities in their community to simply slack and take the easier road of applying for a grant? It is my opinion that we do not. If the team does not go out and advertise their success, they will be hard-pressed to get support from the community. If they don’t have support for their community, how can you tell that the team is truely trying to change the culture to be more aligned with sci/tech? It’s a tough call I think.

I don’t want to speek for Bilfred here, but in my case I wasn’t proposing that the grant be used for getting to Nationals. My idea was that it could be used to fund a worthwile outreach or technology awareness project, proposed by the team.

I assume that Teams without good community involvement already, don’t win Chairmans or Engineering Inspiration awards… So one assumes they are already heavilly tapped into the sponsor loop.

What I’m proposing is that instead of FIRST saying… “Good Job! you get to pay to go to Nationals”… FIRST could say. “Good Job! can we help you get EVEN MORE outreach with a Grant.”

It seems like a much bigger bang for the buck all around. Maybe it could be a matching grant to get the community sponsors even more involved (I come from a rural communuty without large cooporate sponsors, so it’s always a grass roots campaign)


I like the idea. The problem is finding the partners to do it. I’m sure someone can find something…

I do not think they would be up for it. My heart and soul, when it comes to the community, is all about EARLY robotics and other similar programs that are not FIRST endorsed. They are actually ‘competitors’. It would be like using your “was-unsatisfied-so-called-corporate-got-free-minutes” from AT&T or Sprint and trying to apply them to your current Verizon or T-Mobile plan. It just doesn’t work.

In short, it would be a bad business move.


I’d be all for it, so long as there is an application process at least as strenuous as the NASA grant app. Just giving a grant to anybody who wins one of these awards is essentially adding a cash prize to the award, and I think you’d find that this would lead to some pretty unsavory behavior arising in the award-seeking process. Some teams unfortunately are already pretty cutthroat when it comes to trophies… I can only imagine what happens if you aren’t careful adding money into the mix.

If FIRST was “just” a business, I would agree. But FIRST’s mission is to change the culture. It would be very egotistical to assume that the ONLY way to do this would be to participate in a FIRST competition.

My only beef with FIRST is that it’s very seasonal, and very age targeted.

For example, we run Summer LEGO tech camps in my area for 1st-5th graders. Likewise we are expanding year-round 4-H robotics programs, and adding programs that encourage young kids to work WITH their parents. Having funding to help expand these types of programs would ultimately benefit FIRST and the culture…

According to the judges, having these programs helped us to win our Engineering Inspiration award… so I don’t think it’s all about being FIRST and only FIRST.

I hear ya!

I like the way you are thinking but to me there is a major flaw in your logic. You are using the fact that you won an award as grounds for deserving of additional funding. I have always believed that while the awards are nice to get they are not the reason for doing things. You are encouraging a system where people who win awards basically get a cash prize. Also a note must be posted that the judges at each specific event are not FIRST employees and most likely don’t have any insights as to FIRST’s goals in regards to non-FIRST programs.

While I think you have the best intentions at heart I don’t think what you are proposing is a good idea.

I’ll probably be posting a lot on this thread… not because I want to force my point, but because I think it warrants the discussion.

I’m certainly not trying to propose a “cash prize” for awards… although the various DARPA challenges and X-Prizes have shown how effective this can be to encourage innovative thinking.

My thought was that rather than just making a Chairmans or EI award all about “what has been done” (which can let new members ride on the coat-tails of prior members), it could also have in important “what will be done” element as well.

The problem with this is that it’s easy to say this-or-that program will be implemented in the future with no real way to verify it. But what if the team generated a well structured plan to promote STEM which just needed some financial help… Whether they get the funds from FIRST, or not, they’ve still taken the importent step of formulating a strategy.

Actually getting a FIRST development grant would be icing on the cake. Knowing it’s possible could make the difference.

As for local judges not knowing what FIRST wants in a Chairmans or EI award… It seems unlikely to me. By definition, Chairmans award goes to a FIRST team that is a “role model” for how other teams should act. Seems to me that it would be essential for the judges to know what FIRST expects.

Just my opinion :slight_smile:

I was not referring to judges not knowing what FIRST wants in a CA or EI team. I was referring to the cooperate goals of the organization. While the award criteria is fairly defined it is not necessarily a reflection of FIRST’s long term goals.

The other thing about this program is that judges at every event are different and there are many qualified teams. As you were fortunate to be recognized for your efforts, there are many teams who are highly qualified and don’t. To give a real life example, 1629 does great things but did not receive the CA or EI at Chesapeake. That doesn’t discount the work you did, but it is a factor with multiple qualified teams and limited amounts of awards. You guys went to your second event and won, but I can guarantee there were other qualified teams that didn’t win at that event also. Going back to my point, not winning an award isn’t justification that your efforts are wasted, and as your proposed program suggests it would only be the teams that do win awards which are qualified to help their communities.

There are lots of STEM grants out there to help with the funding of both community programs and your FIRST team. It just takes people to seek them out an apply for them. I still stand by my thoughts that making something like this connected with an award is a bad idea.

I would hope that if you really knew me, that you woudn’t assume those were my beliefs. They are very far from it.

I have never disparaged ANY team, based on them not winning an award.

I said that a Chairman’s or EI award winning team has demonstrated to FIRST that they can “formulate a local program to inspire more involvement in Science and Technology”. I never said that other teams can’t (that’s your interpretation, not mine).

My ultimate goal in this discussion is to DISCOURAGE teams from just wanting the “win the award” for the glory of it. So adding a simple “Cash Prize” would be counter productive to this goal. My wish is that by adding a fundable “plan” to the submission, it would encourage the KIDS to think about ways that they can have an impact “in the future”, rather than just extolling past actions (which freshman & sophomores may have had no part in).

Sure, mentors could write “yet another” STEM grant application, but I was just trying to think of ways where the FIRST kids (who covet these awards) could be more involved…

Maybe I’m just dreaming…
We can agree to dissagree.

The biggest con of the championship event is being at a competition with the MOST robots at any one event and only playing 7 matches during the seeding portion (based on the last several years).
I think an extra day should be added where we can mix and match divisions, adding more matches.
This allows teams to see more and experience more with other teams, they may not otherwise ever see at regional events.