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Combusting the competition

Moorestown High School’s robotics team, the Combustible Lemons, complete their sixth competitive season in style.

Photo: Emily Tsai, Special to The Sun: From left, Maria Heffernen, James Blatcher and Aedan McHale focus mid competition at FIRST Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships at Lehigh University.

Every year, teams of high school students, coaches and mentors throughout the country come together to compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition. Teams work for a six-week period to build robots, weighing up to 125 pounds, capable of competing in a series of competitive games.

The Combustible Lemons are a FRC team representing Moorestown High School, led by president Eamon Niedermayer and program management lead Emily Tsai.

The team just completed its sixth competitive season, and according to Tsai, is better than ever.

At the FIRST Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships at Lehigh University, the Combustible Lemons broke their team’s record by placing higher than any previous year. They placed at rank four after the first two days of competition and finished in rank 13 (out of 60 teams) for the qualification matches on day three.

“While prepping for Lehigh, we knew it would be much more competitive than we have seen. We came into the competition knowing that although we are a good team, we may not be the best team on an alliance, or even the second-best. We ranked 13th overall and despite not making playoffs, we are still incredibly proud of our performance and hope to build off of our success next year,” said Niedermayer.

Each year, teams receive a new task from the leaders of FRC at a kickoff event the first Saturday of January. For six weeks following the kickoff, the Combustible Lemons met once a day to brainstorm, design, prototype, build and code a robot.

“Throughout the build season, we are not only responsible for the building, programming and wiring of a robot, but also aspects outside of technology. We apply for several awards in FIRST, as well as focus our efforts on promoting STEM,” said Tsai.

The team’s first competition of the year took place at Westtown School in West Chester, Pa. The Lemons took home the Imagery Award, which, according to Tsai, celebrates aesthetic design in robot, pit, and team appearance.

“One of our team’s hallmarks is the incorporation of imagery into every aspect of our team, from the robot, to the pit, to uniforms. We create a customized logo each year based on the season’s theme,” said Tsai.

Photo: Emily Tsai, Special to The Sun: From left, Vinay Panayanchery, Maria Heffernen and Emily Tsai pose for pictures in their team uniforms at FIRST Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships at Lehigh University.

For this year’s theme, Destination: Deep Space, Tsai designed a team logo she called Apollo 5113, featuring a smiling lemon with alien antenna behind a rocket ship bearing the team number 5113.

“We believe that art allows students to access their creativity, which is necessary for implementing change. Creativity is required to think of unorthodox remedies to world problems and to put these ideas into action. Without creative thinking, no progress in any field would be possible,” said Tsai.

According to Niedermayer, FIRST involves more than just robotics. It is an international organization that promotes STEM and hands-on learning.

Tsai says that two of her team’s main goals are promoting STEM throughout the community and encouraging young students to pursue their interests in STEM fields.

“Having a good understanding of STEM in high school allows you to pursue a degree and a job in a STEM field. Even if you aren’t interested in engineering, over 8 million jobs in America were in STEM fields in 2015,” said Niedermayer.

“The importance of STEM is only increasing. Science, technology, engineering and math allow students to find solutions to problems currently existing in the world, such as poverty, climate change, and pollution. As these problems continue, the need for solving them continues. The next generation will be instrumental in effecting change, and proficiency in STEM is an essential tool to doing so,” said Tsai.

According to Niedermayer, FRC is an expensive sport, and financing the competitive seasons can be tough.

“The cost of registration for district events and for district championships totals nearly $10,000. Busing and housing are also expensive, as we need a way to transport our team of almost 50 students to each competition on the weekends. Every year, we also have to buy new parts to build the robot, and while we try to reuse components, we often need to purchase new materials,” said Niedermayer.

As a result, the team is seeking more sponsorships from businesses to help it achieve its goals.

“Our team uses these funds not only to help build our robot for competition, but also to expand our community outreach through events and participate in various community service projects,” said Tsai.

For more information on the Combustible Lemons, check out their Facebook page at facebook.com/frc5113.


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