Herberg Middle School team takes title at 20th Berkshire Robotics Challenge

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LENOX — Team chemistry and confidence allowed Herberg Middle School students to hoist the championship trophy at the 20th Berkshire Robotics Challenge over the weekend.

The Pittsfield team, nicknamed Heavy Brain Power, defeated LEGOheads I from Williamstown Elementary School 78-54 in the title match Saturday afternoon at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School.

Williamstown was looking for back-to-back titles after one of their three teams, LEGOheads II, won it all in 2018.

A mix of robotics veterans and first-time participants, Herberg finally reached the pinnacle of Berkshire robotics after losing the title match two years ago.

"Everybody contributed from design of the robot to programming and encouragement," said Wendy Stebbins, co-coach with Ellen Lantz.

This year's challenge, "Into Orbit," asked students to build, test and program an autonomous robot using Lego Mindstorms technology to solve 15 space-themed missions, such as growing food in space, fighting muscle atrophy in orbit and collecting samples on a tabletop "playing field."

After finishing the preliminary rounds with the second-highest score of 252, Herberg was one of the eight of 16 Berkshire teams in the high-tech tournament to qualify for the championship round.

Herberg kept their wits about them to ensure they and the robot performed well during their playoff run to success.

"Staying calm," eighth-grader Jack Wildgoose said was one key to victory.

"We had a lot more confidence going in," added sixth-grader John Cook.

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Retired Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk provided the pep-talk prior to the competition, espousing the importance of space travel and the good it can have on Earth.

Thirsk, guest speaker at the inaugural challenge in 2000, explained how the robotic arm he operated on the International Space Station in 2009 led to success in the operating room. He explained how a Canadian neurosurgeon, Dr. Garnette Sutherland, used the space technology to develop a robotic surgical arm. "The robot arm has the same dexterity as a surgeon, but it's more precise," he said.

Despite the high-risk and high cost involved with space travel, Thirsk says it's still rewarding.

He flew on the space shuttle Columbia in 1996, a 17-day mission devoted to the study of life and materials in science. Thirsk also sees value in the robotic rover "Curiosity" exploring Mars, as it could help mankind decide if it's fit for human habitation.

"The Mars astronauts are alive today — they're in high school," he said.

The heartwarming moment of the 20th Berkshire Robotics Challenge came from the Nexus Builders of Berkshire Christian School during the awards ceremony.

Nexus was the top seed in the playoffs, amassing 390 points in the preliminary rounds. They were named the "Comeback Kids" and received a trophy for having the single largest increase in scoring from one round to the next.

While Nexus technically won the honor with an 86-point jump between the first and second rounds, the students felt St. Mary's School from Lee made the real comeback and presented their coach with the trophy. St. Mary's went from a negative 18 score to a positive 31 between the first two rounds, with positive scores the rest of the way.

'To go all the way from penalties to scoring points was pretty amazing," said assistant coach Rachael Dickerson, a sophomore at Berkshire Christian School.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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