Thursday— Day 1
Leaving at 8:00am from campus, embarking on a 12 hour bus ride, with so many ‘new faces’ was daunting. The only people I can say I really knew on the bus were Mr. Ritter and Jessica Hogan. I hadn’t met some of the middle schoolers before we all got seated to depart. My only interactions with Danny Wong and Daniel Delong occurred during lunch as we worked on separate halves of the room. However, once we crossed the border into South Carolina, the awkwardness of not knowing one another began to dissolve as we discussed the upcoming competition. This was my third Regional Botball Tournament, and all of the middle schoolers were newbies to the robotics scene in general. Soon enough we were making hesitant jokes (i.e. Ms. Sanderhoff clapping her hands yelling, “YAS!” after something silly Daniel did, a multitude of water bottle shenanigans), but every gas station stop and hundred miles made us more comfortable around one another. By the time we arrived at our hotel in Springfield, VA, it felt like we’d known each other beyond that traveling day. I’m sure the length of the drive north didn’t hurt, but I felt like I was with family as we drank milkshakes and shared French fries at dinner that night.
Friday— Day 2
If you ever want to see as much of Washington DC in one day as physically possible, Alexandra Sanderhoff is the woman you need to travel with. The game plan seemed easygoing: some national monuments, maybe a museum, find lunch, and hit up Georgetown. I never expected our whirlwind adventure when we left the hotel that morning. We walked by all of the blossoming cherry trees and MANY monuments (not in order: Jefferson, Lincoln, MLK Jr., Roosevelt, Vietnam, Korean, World War II, Washington, and the Reflecting Pool). This was followed by a Smithsonian, the Museum of Natural Science, where Mr. Ritter offered to buy us all precious gems and I held a massive cockroach. This portion of the day added up to 9.2 miles, and we were starving for lunch!
As a former Georgetown local, Ms. Sanderhoff knew where some amazing Thai food could be found. A highlight of this experience was not only the delicious food, but the explosion of laughter as Daniel ate a solid teaspoon of wasabi. After lunch we split up: the boys visited Georgetown University and the girls did some serious window shopping. As we looked at the cosmopolitan boutiques, Grace Burhyte smiled at me and said, “I’d never believe it if someone told me I’d visit Kate Spade with Mr. Ritter.” The fast-paced outing ended with some delicious cupcakes and macaroons, and we returned to the hotel so we could prepare for the big day to follow. We crammed into a small room with half of our game board, the robots, and our new bonds with one another. Hours later we shared pizza by the bonfire outside of the hotel and watched a dance choreographed to “God’s Plan”. I may always feel indebted to Danny for the Cherry Garcia he bought me that night and impossibly amazed by Mr. Leer’s toe-touch. Ellie Frick affectionately deemed us “a little family” as we headed to bed that night for some much needed rest.
Saturday— Day 3
Jessica was all nerves from the moment we woke up. She sprung out of bed to plug in our batteries, and the rest of day would be filled with a similar intensity and anxiety. We knew we were in for a tough competition when we pulled up to Annandale High School and saw that their mascot was the atom. The Greater Virginia/ Washington DC region is the highest scoring Botball region in the country with top tier teams showcasing many different engineered designs and coded strategies. Ansley Walker graciously held our place in line as we frantically ran around making last minute changes leading up to the start of the tournament. Soon the seeding rounds began, and the emcee mocked Jessica as she turned her back to the board once our robots launched into their routine.
Like any true competition, we all stood anxiously waiting for the results to be shared on the projector. Seeding determines the bracket for double elimination, and both the middle and high school team were lucky enough to get a buy for the first round. Ansley, Ellie, and Grace could not have been more supportive as our robots occasionally malfunctioned or scored lower than anticipated, and I was so glad to have new friends in these kind hearted girls. The great laughs of the day came from two distinct moments: (1) Daniel mischievously hinted at employing his kamikaze program against the champion team and (2) Jessica and I defeated one of the best teams because the other team was disqualified as Mr. Leer exclaimed, “Don’t you DARE concede!”
We expected to take home nothing at the end of that day, but we won a Judge’s Choice Award for our combined team efforts between the ESJ team (high school) and the MS ESJ team (middle school). The ESJ team won fifth overall amongst 24 teams, and the emcee announced that the MS ESJ team was the top performing middle school team there. That night we had a wonderful dinner to celebrate unexpected successes, new friendships, and delicious food. We ended the night with a dessert trip to Target, and we shared pints of ice cream and good conversations in the hotel lobby. I can’t recall a time when my stomach and brain were that full simultaneously, and I hope there are many more times when my heart is that content.
Sunday— Day 4
Currently we are on the bus, and I am seriously reflecting on the past few days. There’s so much more to share between the acquaintances we met outside of our group, the history we learned in the nation’s capitol, the teasing about a stolen bus and purse, and the way we call each other “nerds”. It seems impossible that we’d come so far in 72 hours, and are now Jacksonville-bound as completely new people. Amidst the exhaustion from our adventure, there’s a hunger for more robotics within each of us. The middle schoolers are brainstorming for next year, hoping that the conversation is hosted in the Semmes, and I wish I could be apart of this team in the following years. We learned so much in a new environment which has led to jokes about shirking our academic responsibilities to build a robot that can outscore anyone in Palm Springs at the National Botball Tournament. This will not happen due to our shared drive for learning (and our dedicated chaperones), but I love seeing the STEM fervor every time we reminisce to the events of yesterday. As a senior who’s time is dwindling at Episcopal, I truly appreciate the reminder that there’s a bright future to look forward to with the people I don’t want to leave behind.