A couple of weeks ago, we held our annual summer potluck, inviting current and former team members and their families, as well as coaches, mentors and supporters, to enjoy a fun day together. Every year our gathering grows, and this year we were delighted to have team members new this season, along with several alumni members. Seeing them all together made us happy and nostalgic and more than a little proud of our community based FIRST Tech Challenge team!
Over the past five years we’ve:
- brought 26 students through our community FIRST Tech Challenge team.
- introduced 17 students to the FIRST experience for the first time
- graduated 13 students from our team, at least 11 of whom have gone into science and tech related fields of study or work
- impacted hundreds of youth through our extensive outreach programs, including camps, conventions and fairs.
In the Beginning – 2008-09
Before there was FTC Team Duct Tape, there was an awesome FIRST LEGO League (FLL) team known as Team Mu. FLL Team Mu, coached by Valerie Crouse , held the genesis of what was to become three strong Tampa Bay area teams: FTC Team Minotaur, at Middleton High School; FTC Team Mechanical Flightless Waterfowl, which eventually became FTC Team Smoke and Mirrors, in Pasco county, and FTC Team Duct Tape.
Chris Willingham, third from right in the FLL photo with FIRST founder Dean Kamen, became a founding member of TDT in 2008, joined in short order by Aaron, Hunter, BJ , Joel and Chris 2.0, who would help set the standard of success that TDT would come to value and enjoy.
Team Duct Tape the First had a stellar first year, during the Face Off! season, earning a spot in the 2008-09 Florida FTC State Championship and enjoying the wild ride of the big learning curve of being a high school level FIRST Tech Challenge team. Our founding year is also the time when we made the acquaintance of super mentor Paul Markun, of Tampa Technik, the first of many great team guides, and the most enduring.
In their first event in their first year, TDT brought home the Inspire Award, and went on in a subsequent tournament to win the Think Award and Winning Alliance Awards in both qualifiers. At the State Championship, they earned the Finalist Alliance Award, and came back hooked on FTC and planning ahead for their second season.
TDT 2.0 – 2009-10
The 2009-10 season proved even more exciting, as the team grew to a full ten members, including then apprentice, Ethan, and yet another Chris – Chris 3.0 – as well as Denn, Logan and Lee, and brought home a slew of awards in the Hot Shot! game, including the PTC Design Award, Connect Award, Winning Alliance Award and Inspire Award at their qualifiers, and winning the Florida State Championship as captains of the Winning Alliance, earning their first spot at the FIRST World Championship, held in Atlanta that year, and one of the highest games scores in the nation, with 500 points in one of our qualifying tournament alliances.
This was also the season we began to distinguish ourselves as a champion outreach team, taking our robot on the road to everything from professional association meetings to camps, to the Bay Area Renaissance Festival, a tradition of community involvement we continue to this day.
The 2009-10 FIRST Championship was an exciting and challenging experience, as the team learned the value of solid teamwork, communications and the real meaning of Gracious Professionalism. The real challenge wasn’t the competition, it was themselves!
Ultimately, the World Championship experience proved infinitely instructive and incredibly fun, and TDT was determined to earn their way back soon!
TDT 3.0 – 2010-11
Chris 2.0, BJ, Aaron and Denn graduated at the end of the previous season, and Team Duct Tape 3.0 saw new members, Ben, Damien, and our first female member, Natalie, join the team, a
signature event in many ways. Natalie came aboard with interests in programming and a focus on getting the job done.
The 2010-11 game, Get Over It!, proved a programmer’s playground, and Natalie and Chris 1.0 created one of the most memorably moments in the game when their autonomous program triggered the first ever (however inadvertent!) double autonomous balance at the Florida FTC State Championship!
We ended the season with 2 PTC Design Awards, Connect and Inspire Awards, a Winning Alliance Award and, from the Florida State Championship, the Finalist Alliance Award.
TDT 4.0 – 2011-12
Ben and Lee graduated at the end of our third season, and the start of our fourth season brought us a new apprentice, Ryder, a few other fresh faces, including Adi, Mark, Cody and Johnny and a brand new game, 2011-12 Bowled Over! This proved our most challenging season yet, with changes in team management and a complicated robot build that took us through three completely different robots in the course of one season!
Despite the challenges, TDT 4.0 earned their way as Inspire Award Runners Up, to the FTC World Championship a second time, (this time in St. Louis) when Florida won the lottery to send a third team to the event. Team members, led by one time apprentice turned project lead, Ethan, with Natalie as programming lead, invested an extra 30 hours a week prior to the Championship, to create a Championship worthy robot.
Otis the Elevator bot more than lived up to its name, a flawless scissor lift robot hand crafted by team members that consistently lifted baskets ten feet or more. This time TDT made it into the semi-finals at the World Championship, making it all the way to top of their division, and ultimately finishing in the top 6 of the 128 teams at the event.
Sadly, the last of our founding members graduated at the end of the 2011-12 season, along with several of the last couple of seasons members, for a grand total of seven graduating students. While proud and happy for our grads, TDT would essentially be a “rookie” team again in 2012.
TDT 5.0 – 2012-13
Joyfully, we started 2012-13, our fifth season, under the leadership of wonderfully dedicated new coaches and an amazing crew of almost all new students, none of whom had any experience in FIRST, with the exception of Ryder, our videographer and former “apprentice” and Mark who had a little bit of FRC experience before moving to FL from CA. This was an opportunity to test our theory that over the previous four years we had developed a solid coaching and mentoring system coupled with a firm organizational foundation codified in our Team Duct Tape Handbook. This was an opportunity to see if we were successful just because we had an experienced group of natively talented students, or if it was something more.
FIRST also rolled out a new competition format that year, with Florida beta testing a meet system quite different from previous qualifying tournaments. Since our team members were almost all brand new to the experience, the meet system didn’t throw them, but the game did. They finished at the bottom of the heap after their first competition.
But working with dedicated mentors and coaches, and keeping their focus on our team mission and goals , TDT 5.0 gradually got it. Over the course of the season, learning to play “Ring It Up!‘ and learning to work together, they brought themselves up from nearly last place among more than 60 teams, to earning a spot in the solid center of the top 24 teams going to the State Championship, keeping intact their record of attending the FTC State Championship every year since their founding.
And in the end, our veteran team of rookies finished the season with yet another Finalist Alliance Award as well as the Judges Award for most improved team, and couldn’t wait for the new season to start!
TDT 6.0 and Beyond!
As we start our 6th season, we’re confident in our students and our methods. We don’t need to audition or try out team members – any student who is interested and willing to apply himself or herself can become a successful and accomplished member of Team Duct Tape. Students don’t have to come to the team with any previous experience for the team to be successful – they just need to be curious and interested and willing to learn.
What makes TDT successful isn’t how well we do in the field – that can be hit or miss, although we try to hit more than miss. It’s how well we do off the field, in the garage and at meetings, with great mentors willing to share their expertise and insights, with dedicated coaches willing to share their homes and their time, with devoted parents willing to ferry their children to meetings, field trips and events, and with students willing to apply themselves, work together, and do the hard work of learning for the fun reward of competing.
We’re proud of our past , of a history of successful competition, successful students, successful STEM outreach and enduring friendships. Alumni members Chris the first, Joel and Ethan all mentor back to the team now.
And we’re excited about the new season, with new team members Koen and Jacob, and the addition of the Super Regional in San Antonio, adding a new layer of both challenge and opportunity.
It’s a brand new season, and we’re plunging in again, ready for the fun, friendships and new knowledge that every season brings!
Rip it! Stick it! Done! New season, here we come!