For Wilson HS Robotics, a Historic FIRST-time Victory 

‘Tiger Pride’ team joins alliance to win regional competition

Wilson-The Champions
Members of Wilson High School’s Tiger Pride robotics team beams with pride after winning the fourth-annual DC Regional FIRST Robotics Competition.
Wilson-DCRoboticsTeams-Group Shot-3-31-12
Robotics teams from 11 DCPS schools competed in the fourth-annual DC Regional FIRST Robotics Competition.

Bookmark and Share

The Wilson High School Tiger Pride robotics team made high-tech history at the DC Regional FIRST Robotics Competition last month, becoming the only DCPS robotics team ever to win the event – proving that in a battle of robots, it takes a tiger to take down the competition.

The Tiger Pride placed first in the event after a day and a half of intense action among 63 teams from 12 states. Now, Wilson advances to the national competition in St. Louis, April 25-28.

“Last year, no DC team finished in the top half of the rankings. This year, the goal was to break into the top half with a few teams. We had no idea that one of our teams would earn a place in the championship match, let alone win it!” said Anthony Priest, who oversees the robotics program for DCPS.

“Everyone was moved and inspired upon witnessing this historic event. This was not just a win for Wilson, but for all of the DC Public Schools as it demonstrated that DC can compete and win,” Priest said.

This year, students designed robots the size of washing machines to scoop up basketballs, shoot them at three different heights of basketball goals, and then balance on a seesaw (with one or more other robots) in a field of play that resembled a basketball court with glass walls like a miniature hockey rink.

Baskets were worth one, two and three points depending on the height of the goal. Balancing was worth 10 points per robot and the 3-minute matches frequently came down to the balancing portion as the clock counted down the time.

Three school teams joined forces to form a blue team and three others formed a red team. Teams stood behind high glass walls on either side of the court and maneuvered their robots around to score. An announcer covered the action play-by-play as robots hurled basketballs and blocked shots.

By Saturday, the wear and tear was beginning to show on the robots as several were toppling over while trying to balance, with the robots strewn about like a toddler’s Tonka trucks. At the end of the second day of competition, Wilson’s team emerged victorious.

For the 11 DCPS teams competing in the FIRST Robotics Competition, the event, held at the DC Convention Center, was like playing in the Turkey Bowl or the Abe Pollin City Title Basketball Games. Screaming fans in bleachers on either side of the court cheered wildly as robots scored and teams came from behind to win. And dozens of teenagers, many of them wearing costumes to show their school spirit, joined team mascots to line-dance to psych-up music.

Down in the “pits” behind the bleachers, teams continued to fine-tune their robots before lining up with their machines to do battle.

“I like the creativity of it and the group work,” said Yonatan Abune, 16, a senior at Coolidge High School and a member of the Coolidge Coolbots team. “Every day, you learn a new thing.”

Holy Mbah, 19, another member of the Coolbots team, said the process of building a robot involves input from every member of a team. Coolbots members met after school on Mondays and Wednesdays and throughout the day on Saturdays to construct their robots.

“First of all, everyone had to do a design of a robot and it had to be the most realistic and simple enough to get done on time,” Mbah said. “After everyone had completed a design, we compared them to see the advantages and disadvantages. Then we started building it [using parts provided by FIRST Robotics].”

The construction phase requires math, physics, electronics, computer programming, carpentry and engineering skills. “This is the kind of thing that can get you prepared to do other sciences,” Mbah said.

The competition phase requires all the same skills but adds a few others that many athletes develop for high-pressure, game-time situations, said Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School senior Terrell Lowery.

“When you’re in there, people are cheering and screaming, so you have to maintain your composure,” Lowery said. “The only error we have at this point is human error. … We’re building up to the last minute, always trying to make it better.”

Joshua McGhee, 17, a Phelps senior who has been involved in the competition for the past three years, said team members often walk around the “pits” to see how other teams approach their designs and learn ways to improve their own robots.

“It’s an excellent experience,” McGhee said. “The more exposure I have, the more excited I get.”


By Anthony Priest

After a day and a half of round robin play, Wilson High School was ranked 23rd and had hopes of being selected to join one of the eight alliances. As the draft entered its later rounds, the nervous Wilson team was elated to be chosen to join the No. 2 seeded alliance.

The eight permanent alliances moved into the tournament portion to determine the overall champion.

Wilson's robot had been cleverly designed for team play and was ideally suited for this environment. It would immediately cross over into the opponent’s court and wreak havoc; frustrating the opposition by interfering with their shots, stealing their balls, and then, at the end of the match, consistently balancing on the seesaw.

The tournament was not without its drama. Tournament rounds are best two out of three matches. In the first round, the Wilson alliance lost a heartbreaker 47 to 35. However, they improved in the second match and won 59-47. This forced a third and decisive match. A win here would put Wilson in the Final Four. While the other team once again scored 47 points, the Wilson alliance continued to improve and dominated by scoring 66 points to win and advance to the next round.

In the semi-finals, the Wilson alliance won the first match only to learn it had to be replayed due to a wireless network communication issue. However, Wilson’s robot had suffered a bent axle. But, as panic was about to set in, the students were able to replace the axle and continue.

In a low-scoring match, the Wilson alliance barely lost as two of its robots capsized off each side of the seesaw as time expired, once again forcing a third and final match.

In the winner-take-all match, the scoring was back and forth with several lead changes, and the capacity crowd cheering with each. As the seconds ticked off, two robots from Wilson’s alliance were teetering on the seesaw, and the opposing alliance also had two robots teetering.

When the dust settled, the Wilson seesaw was stable, while the opponents’ was not. This secured the victory and the right to advance into the championship match. Never before had a DC team come so far.

The championship match pitted the No. 1 seed vs. the Wilson alliance, the No. 2 seed. Due to the way the draft works, the top two robots in the field were both on the No. 1 seeded team. Yet, as in so many things, teamwork is more important than firepower, and the Wilson robot provided the magic for their alliance.

The first match was a frenzy of activity. The swift robots of the No. 1 seed were hampered by the effective defensive tactics of the Wilson robot. This secured a 54-39 victory putting the championship just one win away.

In the second match, the Wilson alliance saved their best for last scoring 78 points, the second highest total in the two days of play. The insurmountable total propelled the second seeded, underdog alliance to the title and the crowd of spectators erupted in cheering.

Students, teachers and mentors from the other DC teams that had stayed to watch were jumping up and down with delight. Everyone was moved and inspired upon witnessing this historic event, for this was not just a win for Wilson, but for all of the DC Public Schools as it demonstrated that DC can compete and win.


School w/o Walls 14
Wilson 23
Phelps 29
Cardozo 33
Coolidge 40
Dunbar 52
McKinley 53
Anacostia 57
Spingarn 60
Luke C. Moore 61

Inside DCPS Highlights.


DC.Gov Home Page              Best Of The Web Award

© 2011 District of Columbia Public Schools, 1200 First Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002, (202) 442-5885