Classrooms: HRHS robotics team shines at regional competition

  • From left, seventh-graders Ben MacFadzen and Sage Antonio, members of the Robotics Team at Hampshire Regional High School, meet with coach Greg Larson. GAZETTE STAFF/Caitlin Ashworth

  • From left, seventh-graders Vincent DiGiacomo, Ben MacFadzen and Ryan McConnell, of the Robotics Team at Hampshire Regional High School, practice last week for a state competition held last Saturday. gazette staff/Caitlin Ashworth

Published: 12/20/2016 7:34:50 PM

WESTHAMPTON — After meeting multiple times a week and working countless hours on projects at home, the Robotics Team at Hampshire Regional High School won a “FIRST LEGO League” qualifier competition in Agawam and advanced to the state competition this month.

Although the team did not place at states, robotics coach Jodi Loud said the students had fun.

The team has advanced to the state competition in the past, but this year was a winning year for the team at qualifiers. They won the “Champion’s Award” on Dec. 10, ranking highest overall in the four judging categories: robot game, core values, robot design and project.

According to Loud, it’s the highest award a team can earn at qualifiers. Out of 24 teams, they came in first.

The seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders who make up the robotics team began training for this month’s competition in August.

The team started at HRHS six years ago and is completely parent run. The “FIRST LEGO League” is open to grades 4-8, but freshman students, like Cobi Laud, help out.

Students must research a real-world problem and are challenged to develop a solution as well as design, build and program a robot and compete on a tabletop playing field, according to the program’s website.

Robots for the program are built using LEGO Mindstorms. The EV3 brick, or the “brains” of the robot, serves as the control center and power station. Students can opt to attach color and touch sensors as well as motors.

During the challenge, the robot has 2 minutes and 30 seconds to complete a variety of tasks on a tabletop board designed by LEGO each year. The team had  a board layout to practice and had since September to build and program the robot to complete tasks.

Seventh-grader Ben MacFadzen, 12, who enjoys working on computers, said the robotics team is “right up my alley.”

Without the club at school, MacFadzen said, “I’d probably never get my hands on this,” referring to the LEGO Mindstorm equipment.

It’s eighth-grader Maggie Brisbois, 13, second year on the team. She likes programming as well as working on solutions to problems in the area.

Over the months leading up to the competitions, Loud said on of the hardest categories for the students is learning how to work together using the program’s core values which include teamwork, learning together and having fun.

“I really love the team building,” MacFadzen said. 

Loud said team members improved their core values, learned to work well together and scored perfectly on that segment at qualifiers.

“It’s been a good group,” Brisbois’ father Jeremy said.

While ninth-graders can’t compete in First LEGO League competition, Laud plans to have a group next year for the higher level competition for high school students. That team will use more complicated robotics.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at

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