What is right with the question box?

Ok, did not wish to start a new war, but I noticed the closed topic and missed adding my 2 cents by a mere 7 days. I believe the info can, and I personally know has helped throughout my time as a field worker.

I have served in the capacity of Field Supervisor, field repair, and or field reset for many Regional events in AZ, NV, and Champs going back to at least 2015.

  1. The question boxes as everyone knows are usually located at the ends of the FTA table area. 1 in blue, 1 in red, and are set apart from each other for a good reason. (So, if both are occupied at the same time, there is not usually the chance for 1 to overhear the questions of the opposition and the answers. Less chance for team to team interactions also).

  2. There are many reasons (and people), they may wish to question. Some want to know info from or question the Head Ref, the FTA, the FTAA, help from a CSA, to reach someone who can quickly contact a Robot Inspector, and as has been my direct experience many times, even occasionally the Field Supervisor.

  3. If you look at the normal field setup, during ongoing matches, many of those that questioner’s wish to question, are facing and watching the action on the field. So, the questioner(s) patiently waiting in said ? Box, have usually the person they wish to question with their backs to them!

  4. As Field Supervisor, Field Repair, or even Field Reset. I always attempted to station myself somewhere a bit behind the FTA table a little bit, and usually off to one side, so that after Reset is completed & a thumbs up given to begin every match…Usually, I return to my station, repairing items, and a myriad of other duties, and watch the match (watching mainly the field for issues that may arise during the current match in play having to do with the field condition, from a position I could see those two boxes, and quickly gather what tools & materials may be necessary to launch a fast repair), I still watch those boxes.

  5. As soon as anyone stepped into, or near those boxes, I would immediately go to that individual and ask 1 simple question in a very kind manner…“Who would you like to speak to?” I have, as stated above in (2.), received all of those answers. (Some want to speak to the Head Ref, some want to know what the FTA was looking at so intently in their robot just off the guardrail during their disconnection, some are looking for help from the FTA, FTAA or a CSA for technical help. Some wanted anyone with a radio like myself to call someone to meet them in inspection. It was rare, but some actually wanted to talk directly to me about actual field issues, but most often to locate a part their robot was missing after a match as most knew I would know where it was if it was left on the field. (Barf Boxes) and often it was still in my hand since I had not reached the box yet to deposit it. (Master links and clips, chains, and specialized hardware pcs. for those wondering).

  6. As soon as I could determine who they wished to speak to, I radioed, and or walked directly to them (the person requested), and asked them to respond to the questioner ASAP. If a match has already begun, the Head Ref or FTA is busy (and will respond ASAP upon match & match duties completion), all others FTAA and below usually respond immediately if they can. I was always willing to locate a CSA or Robot Inspector for you.

  7. You are our only customers. We are your only volunteers. We all put our pants on the same way…1 leg at a time. Those question boxes are there for You To Ask Questions (in accordance with the stated rules of course), and it is the appropriate Volunteer’s responsibility, to get you the answers you seek, to the best of our abillities, if we know them, or to seek the answers if we can. (Also in accordance with the rules).

  8. Also, there are other times to ask many (what if questions)…At the Required Driver’s Meeting(s), During or immediately following the Field Measurement period. (If you noticed something concerning field setup, that does not match up, please notify US, mainly the Field Supervisor). We will look at the setup docs together (look at the + or - allowances listed, and compare to what exists), and attempt to rectify any issues. If major changes are made at that time, an announcement would be made so all competing are on an even playing field. Usually the period of measurement is extended slightly at that point.

  9. Head Ref’s are a special breed with extreme responsibilities. It is not easy to remember all of what happened 2 matches back. And often it was called out by another ref on the field, and agreed to in post match ref meeting. If you decide to approach the question box following a match, go there immediately, do not pass go, do not collect $200.00… Get in that box fast if you want to speak with the Head Ref or FTA, and attempt to get their attention before the next match sched. time. Then relax, take a few deep breaths, and calmly ask away. Calm and non-argumentative wins the day…But, do not be afraid to ask! (These are all Volunteers, and we all know exactly who our customers are…You Are!)

Sorry about the book, but those boxes are very important, I personally made them a part of my minimal duty to always watch them, then get the proper person there ASAP, because I knew how important they are to the competitors. I also knew, the faster the questioner was recognized, the calmer it seemed to end up being. And I hope seeing it from a different perspective helps.


The question box should have a pressure pad that makes it impossible to start the next match. I have watched several occasions where the question askers have been ignored until after the next match, then told it was “too late”.


Shouldn’t we want the questions/responses to be open and available for everyone?

Do WE want them to be, yes. This one comes from HQ, must be 2, must be separated, no exceptions. Practically speaking only one really gets used.

Y’all know what to do for that one: Team Advocate.

I do think there are cases where something should be private, and in those cases it’s appropriate to spread people out (“hey guys, I know you want to listen in, but this isn’t something we’re comfortable having you this close so back off 1 Social Distance Unit and we’ll get to you ASAP” sort of deal).

Ignoring the Q box is never OK. It may be that you have to say “we don’t have enough time to get to it right now, I’ll be back as soon as the match is complete”, but a 30-second question should be answerable (FTAs, STOP pressuring the HRs to get to the field right this second, savvy?).


Could probably solve that using buttons on the ends of the table, with some type of protection to prevent accidental touches.

FMS would have a notification alerting the table that a button has been pressed.

A good alliance captain knows this, and has their minions corroborate with the other question box group…


As a mentor on a team that got a red card in our last quals match at champs one year (effectively sending us packing), and our student in the box was pretty much ignored, I agree.

As a mentor who has dealt with many an obstinate student, on my own team and others, I disagree. At what point do you physically remove a student from the box? Or do you give head ref an “I’ve talked to the kid, we shall proceed” override button?

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This is one reason I dislike auto thread closures

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Um… never?


At the cost of starting the next match(es)?

It would help to not take that portion of his comment out of context. He was responding to the concept of the question box being a pressure pad that prevents matches from starting. If that is the case, a particularly stubborn student can use that as a “I’m going to stand here until I get my way” pad rather than a “I’m going to stand here until I talk to someone” pad. A student could delay an entire event because they don’t agree with a call, even after discussing it with the head ref. That’s why he’s asking about the ability to remove a student (or the ability to bypass the pad, as he mentioned later in that post).



So, the solution is to physically remove a student from the question box? As a student, I was often the problematic kid in the question box. Today, it’s my students that are. That’s how we learn and make sure we understand the calls that were made on the field. If refs want to dismiss us, that’s fine, but physically removing one of my students from a question box is gonna have repercussions far worse than a kid minorly salty about their lost match or yellow card.


I think you’re taking things a little too literally. I don’t want to speak for everyone here, but I would like to think FIRST volunteers and FIRST themselves would know that literally/physically removing a team member (let alone a minor) would have serious repercussions. As was stated above, I think you are taking things wildly out of context here.

Edit: The poster also immediately followed up the statement of physically removing a student from the question box, with a much more realistic/reasonable solution.


Easy solution: question box has a button for the student to press that stops the next match from starting, and a button that the head ref presses that re-enables the match start. This means the head ref must acknowledge the student before starting the match but gives them an eventual out if a student refuses to accept the ruling. Any misuse of the question box buttons from either side is an immediate report to HQ, easy.


I was about to suggest this, in a slightly more complex form. You could also have controls help and field issue buttons.

I was thinking use a keypad code to allow clearing of questions.

The case of 5 people in line is a good place to allow a bypass…

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No, the solution is to implement a question box that doesn’t create that situation in the first place. That’s the point he was getting at. He wasn’t asking for permission to place his hands on a student, he was pointing out the potential pitfalls of the pressure pad solution. He’s not advocating to harm students, he’s advocating to avoid solutions that could cause harm to students.

But there’s a broader point here. Rather than sniping one line out of the post to score a few likes with an outraged reaction, try to have better discourse. Read and consider the whole post, and how that particular line fits into that whole post and the points they’re making in that post. Don’t approach discussion with the intention of attempting to prove the other posters wrong, approach discussion with the intention of understanding the other perspective first, and then building upon that (which is then where shortcomings, flaws, and disagreements can be pointed out). We can be a better community if we strive to be a better community, and not just to farm heart reactions by sniping out of context quotes.


This is an excellent suggestion. I do not think there is a reasonable, good faith argument against doing this. It completely eliminates a problem and allows teams to feel like they get a chance to have their concerns answered. There is nothing inspiring about being ignored, accidentally or otherwise, and then told it’s too late.

And this is a solid addition to the suggestion, albeit one I don’t actually think is necessary. The student can step off the platform once a head ref or FTA is talking to them, but before the concern is resolved - they can’t start the match without a head ref anyway?

For future reference, you can flag a post using the “something else” option and write a message to moderators if you find a closed thread you’d like to revive. It’s easy to reopen threads.


@Lil_Lavery I have stood behind the glass with Zook and in the question box at his events. I have loads of respect for his hard work on 4276 and absolutely no concerns about his harm to students; he’s done quite the opposite for me and thousands of others in SoCal.

Original post was intended to agree with sentiment against a pressure plate and how it could spiral out of hand. That’s it. If that’s not how that came off, I should have been clearer. Seriously, my bad.

If you truly believe my participation on this site is harming an otherwise reasonable discourse, feel free to reach out by dm so I can learn to see your perspective or flag my post for moderation. I am happy to continue to learn from mentors about how to be a better community member. Please don’t, however, call me out as begging for laughs and likes, especially without knowing me personally or having a comprehensive understanding of my perspective.

Not every negative question box incident nor physical aggression issue at FIRST events makes its way into public knowledge. I have no interest in starting anything, just don’t appreciate being called out and definitely don’t want my kids getting hurt. Happy to chat more by dm


Have you ever had to deal with a student in the question box? They can be amazingly persistent, especially when the answer boils down to “sorry, but you aren’t getting the change you want”. Sometimes the only way to get things moving again is for the head ref to excuse himself to start the next match. If the student knows standing there prevents that, then it presents a huge potential for significantly delaying events.

From personal experience, a fair number of years ago: It was the quarter finals, a rookie team was captain of an alliance that lost a close match. The team/alliance captain went up to argue. I don’t remember the specifics - there was a foul that should or shouldn’t have been called that would have changed the result. After about 10 minutes of him keeping the head ref from starting the next match, I finally managed to distract him and get him to walk a ways over to talk through it more with me, leaving the head ref (who had already finalized the results and given his final ruling to the student) to start the next match. I missed the next 3 matches talking with that kid about his interpretation versus what the head ref had said.

Can you imagine letting a single kid, refusing to move from a pressure switch, to delay an event by half an hour? I agree - some sort of electronic signaling can be used to help ensure questions get addressed in a timely manner. But the volunteers need a way to override it to keep the event moving when they encounter a passionate student that is sure they are right.


Man, sometimes I think “You’ve still got it, Zook!”
Never, is the correct answer. I was creating a worst-case proposition: student throwing a tantrum and refusing to allow matches to continue. Solution is have their parent handle it, or temp them away with corn dogs.

I like the idea of having an alert of some sort that forces the refs to respond. But I was just pointing out that without careful consideration it could cause more problems. Just like people not knowing my in-person personality, or that of others can lead to unintended interpretations of off hand postings.