Local robotics teams are calling this year's competition the most difficult one yet but say they're up for the challenge.
The teams -- along with 2,000 other squads nationally -- received this year's game rules through a NASA satellite transmission from the New Hampshire headquarters of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).
This year's theme, "Ultimate Ascent," challenges three-team alliances to score as many flying discs into goals as possible during a roughly two-minute match. Discs scored in goals that are placed higher are worth more points, and matches end with robots attempting to climb pyramids located near the field's center.
"This is by far the most challenging and exciting robotics competition in the 12 years Longwood has participated," said Debbie Lang, team adviser for Longwood High School in Middle Island, which won the Regional Chairman's Award at last year's Long Island Regional FIRST Robotics Competition. "We'll be building on all the skills and strategies we've ever learned. The kids are really psyched to push the limits of our skills and imagination."
At the kickoff, teams picked up their kit of parts to begin the 42-day period of designing and building robots. The kit consists of motors, batteries and a mixture of automation components -- but no instructions.
"The competition is not just about the design and building of sophisticated robots," said Ginny Greco, FIRST robotics director for the School-Business Partnerships of Long Island, which is sponsoring the Long Island Regional. "These students also develop maturity, professionalism and teamwork skills that enrich their lives."
The Long Island Regional will take place at Hofstra University April 4-6, and some teams will advance to the 2013 championships in St. Louis.
Jump Rope for Heart
Mandracchia Sawmill Intermediate School recently raised $25,000 for the American Heart Association through a Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser in which some 300 students secured pledges from family and friends based on their participation in a jump-rope session.
"Our students have learned about healthy lifestyles and volunteering, and our parents and community have become more involved in our school through this fun, invigorating activity," said Steve Iannone, the school's physical education teacher.
'Fill the Bus'
Woodhull Intermediate School recently aided local residents affected by superstorm Sandy with a "Fill the Bus" campaign in which the school community donated more than 300 boxes worth of supplies ranging from blankets to diapers.
The items filled a school bus donated by Huntington Coach Corp., which transported them to Island Harvest in Mineola.
"The students collected items every day for about five weeks and filled the hallways with as many donations as they could," said Woodhull's PTA president, Jeanie Dempsey.
Family fun night
Oakdale-Bohemia Middle School recently hosted a family fun night that attracted nearly 250 community members who were affected by superstorm Sandy in an effort to provide "a chance for normalcy in a comfortable and familiar place," principal Susanne Bailey said.
Applebee's supplied 20 employee volunteers to help lend a hand and offer a handful of complimentary dinner passes and food -- from chicken fingers to penne Alfredo. The restaurant chain also provided entertainment from New Hyde Park-based party rental company Send in the Clowns, which supplies items such as inflatable slides and arcade games.
Other donations came from Pepsi, Costco and Waldbaum's.
A group of 38 teams from local schools participated last month in a practice tournament for the upcoming First Lego League Qualifying Tournaments, which are slated to kick off later this month.
This year's theme, called "Senior Solutions," focuses on solving problems that senior citizens face. Teams will partner with local seniors to learn about their struggles and together design and create robots to help improve these setbacks.
The tournament will take place at Longwood Middle School in Middle Island on March 3.
At the practice tournament, Girl Scouts of Suffolk County Team 7892, aka the Radical Robots, from Bayport-Blue Point and Sayville won the Robot Performance Award, while Team 3817, aka Awesome AHApers, from Dix Hills won the Gracious Professionalism Award.