HIGHLAND PARK – Highland Park High School’s Robotics Team Vertigo won the Illinois State Robotics Champion title for sixth state win in the past eight years.
The February 24 tournament pitted Team Vertigo against 44 of the best teams in the state. For the better part of the day, Vertigo was below the top 15. The tables turned when the team won the last two matches in the round robin, which brought them up to second place. Next, Team Vertigo made a winning alliance and won all of the matches for the playoffs to become the state champion.
If this reads like a play-by-play account of a sporting event, that’s exactly what Jonathan Weiland, biology teacher and robotics coach, intended.
“We call robotics the varsity sport of the mind, because I know that everyone on my team turns pro and I’ve been teaching at HPHS for 24 years,” said Weiland.
Township High School District 113 had a combined robotics program between Highland Park and Deerfield high schools, but Weiland said it became too large, so the programs are run separately with three teams at HPHS and two at DHS.
The name of the robotics program is First Tech Challenge (FTC). Weiland said a typical robotics tournament is a two-on-two game, where your alliance partner could be your competitor at any given moment.
“There’s always a bit of drama and we believe in gracious professionalism, which means that since your opponent could be your alliance partner, you have to treat everybody with respect,” said Weiland. “If you win, you don’t rub it in and if you lose, you don’t complain. That’s one of the key lessons of FTC robotics.”
Team Vertigo comprises juniors, sophomores and a freshman. Some new members were recruited this year. Weiland conveyed that to win in a competition, you have to have a good robot, good luck and a good strategy.
“The luck is involved in who your alliances are, and who your opponents are.”
Team Vertigo members include: Benjamin Cohen, Brendan Chay, Joseph Beresheim, Daniel Bergman, Jackie Hirsch, Adam Kramer, Hawk Peterson, Kurt Plonsker and Anais Zoub.
Team Vertigo was scheduled to compete in the North Super Regionals, March 15 to 17 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (which commenced after this newspaper’s deadlines; visit DailyNorthShore.com for an update). This will be the final stop before the world championship tournament in Detroit, Michigan in April. The HP Robotics team has advanced to the world championship five of the last nine years.
The 72-team tournament will have students competing from nine states.
Weiland said Team Vertigo has been busy incorporating some design changes which will help strengthen the new robot going into the regionals.
When Weiland began teaching robotics nine years ago there were only 22 teams in the State of Illinois and today there are 177 teams. He said the technology in the program has evolved and the level of competition has gotten stronger.
The national organization provides $50 million in scholarships. There are 200 universities and colleges that participate at the national level. This year Illinois Institute of Technology awarded two students from a FTC robotics team $25,000 a year for four years and there’s a whole range of scholarship offerings.
The students participate in robotics year round, so during the off-season the students help other teams learn about programming and building. The team also participates in corporate outreach to different organizations including CDW and Linkedin
Additionally, Team Vertigo’s Jackie Hirsch mentored First Lego League teens at the Highland Park Library.
“We have a rotating core of students who are highly motivated, clever, insightful, and dedicated and we also have a school district that has been generous in their support,” said Weiland.
Weiland enjoys seeing former students come back to cheer new robotics team members on. Jacob Burroughs from HPHS is on the leadership team of the state organization. He and Sam Ephraim have come back to help the robotics team, as well as Shira Shirtag, who attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.
Weiland is inspired by the Verizon PSA entitled, “We Need More,” featuring LeBron James and Drew Brees. The PSA sites some interesting statistics:
“There are 2,880 pro football players, 850 pro soccer players, 624 pro basketball players, 5,800 models and 4 million tech jobs. By 2020, 77 percent of jobs in the U.S. will require technology, but millions of American students don’t have the technology they need to succeed.”
Weiland emphatically encourages parents to invest in their children’s technology experience.
“I like to tell people that the climb is more important than the summit, so when I see kids who find their way in the world, that’s what I find rewarding,” said Weiland.
To learn more visit: HP Robotics.
Team Vertigo; all photos courtesy of Jonathan Weiland