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March 23. 2014 9:05PM

FIRST

Windham students rolling toward FIRST finals


Student Jake Mathews adjusts a gear on “Wingman,” one of the Windham Windup team’s robots, as teammates Carina Savukinus, Patrick Ronayne and Dhruv Patel look on. (APRIL GUILMET PHOTO)

WINDHAM -- A group of mechanically minded Windham High School students earned top honors at the district FIRST Robotics competition at the University of New Hampshire earlier this month.

The 30 members of the Windham Windup, who are in grades seven through 12, will now compete in the season’s final district event at Northeastern University on March 28 before heading to the district championship event at the Agganis Arena in Boston in mid-April.

They’re hoping their successful streak that began at UNH will continue over the coming months, enough to earn them a slot at the FIRST World Championship in St. Louis next month.

Anne Browne, one of the team’s adult mentors, said the Windup ranked fourth out of 36 teams competing at UNH this month.“They went into the event with a fair amount of practice under their belt, and it showed,” Browne said. “Right off the bat the team gave a strong showing, winning the majority of their qualification matches.”

Teaming up with two other top teams from Portland and Skowhegan, Maine, the three-team alliance advanced to the finals at UNH, where they lost a close first match but bounced back and won the next two matches, earning them the title of 2014 UNH District Champions.

The Windup was later presented with the Chairman’s Award, which is given at each competition to a team that best represents the mission of FIRST.

Coach Scott Kukshtel said the team continues to grow each year, noting that there were only 10 or so members in fall 2010, the start of its first season.

This year’s season is somewhat bittersweet, as 10 of the founding members will be graduating this spring, though a handful of seventh- and eighth-graders have been welcomed as active junior team members.

“It’s a great way for them to build seniority with the team and to get a taste of the competitions,” Kukshtel said.

The Windham Windup has shown great progress since its inception. During its maiden season, the team won the Rookie All-Star Award. If they make it to St. Louis next month, it will be their third time competing at the international level.

The team’s challenge this year is known as “aerial assist,” which tasks them with designing and building a robot that’s able to toss a 24-inch exercise ball through a vertical goal, similar to one seen on football fields.

“This year there’s a bit of a twist,” Kukshtel said. “The robots will be passing the ball to one another, so they need to be more interactive.”

On Friday afternoon, a group of teammates were hard at work on their latest robot, known affectionately as “Wingman.”

Freshman team member Ken Cole, who joined the Windup earlier this year, admitted he initially joined the team “because a lot of my friends were doing it” but was pleasantly surprised.

“It just looked really cool,” Cole said. “And I love it so far.”

Sophomore Casen Megna, who was busy fitting some foam “wacky noodles” onto the robot’s bumpers Friday afternoon, said he enjoys being part of the Windup for a variety of reasons.

“It’s given me the chance both to explore engineering and to be part of a team,” Megna said. “The difference here is we root for other teams as well as our own.”

Junior Cassandra Salafia joined the Windup last year and is one of the team’s five female members.

“I like how it builds friendships,” said Salafia, who hopes to pursue an engineering degree after she finishes high school. “I also like that I never feel limited. You can do mechanical one day and electric another day.”

The team is raising money to assist them in their upcoming series of competitions. For more information or to donate to the Windham Windup, visit the team’s website at www.team3467.org.

aguilmet@newstote.com


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