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Fitch Falcons end season with Worcester victory


The winning alliance of Aluminum Falcons (center) Apple pi (left) and Orange Chaos at Battlecry 16 at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. | Courtesy Everett Wilhelm

GROTON — The Aluminum Falcons, the Fitch Senior High School robotics team, pulled off another spectacular win at the largest post-season robotics competition in New England over the Memorial Day weekend in Worcester, Mass. It was the sixth time the Falcons have participated at the “BattleCry@WPI,” and the third time they have emerged victorious.

Fifty-five teams from across the Northeast participated, and after eight rounds of qualification matches, the Falcons were ranked second overall, right after the New England champions, the CyberKnights from Southington.


In the end, the finals came to a showdown between a team consisting of the Falcons, Connecticut state champions Apple π from Guilford and Orange Chaos from Brewer High School, Maine, versus the Cyber Knights, Nutrons from Boston and Who’s CTEKS from Housatonic Valley.

The Falcon’s alliance proceeded to win the best of three final in two matches.

“This was an unexpected victory,” said senior Matt Nowak, the lead CAD designer for the team. “We suffered so many hardships and bad luck this season. It’s nice to end the season with a big win.”

The victory capped off a very successful year in FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics for the Falcons, who were champions at the Pioneer Valley tournament in Springfield to start the season. They finished fourth in qualifications in Smithfield, Rhode Island, 25th in the New England championship qualification and 30th overall in the region.

The Falcons also finished 21st in qualifications on the Galileo Field at the world championships in St. Louis, eventually getting knocked out in the semifinals of their division.

Seniors Nowak, Dominique Harris, Jacob Kowalski, Kush Kumar, Zach Lanzicky, Finian O’Connor, Jazmyn Scott, Emma Stark and Cam Wilhelm leave the team as champions and in capable hands.

In finishing the season, the team extend a debt of gratitude to coaches and mentors Brian Chidley, Joshua Miller, Kevin Harrilal, James Corcoran, Kevin Brown, Aram Mead,and Everett Wilhelm.

The Falcons extended a special thanks to the Groton Board of Education for their support in getting the team to the world championship competition in St Louis. In addition, they thanked their sponsors, consisting of large corporations, small businesses and individuals; without them the program could not exist.

The team will be starting a summer project to design and build a prosthetic hand and or arm. To help contribute contact lead mentor Kevin Harrilal at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

STEM presentations are being scheduled for the fall season. If you would like the team to reach out to your organization please contact Brian Chidley at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Aluminum Falcons make divisional semis


GROTON — This year the Fitch Senior High School Aluminum Falcons Robotics team accomplished something they had never done before; they participated at the national competition, the FIRST Robotics Championship in St. Louis, Mo.

In the end the Falcons did well enough to make it into the divisional semi-finals.


“The level of competition was intense. Scores that would have been the high score for a district competition, such as the one we won in Springfield, Mass., would have ranked teams below average in any of the eight divisions,” said Coach and Faculty Advisor Brian Chidley.

The championship was not only intense, but immense in scope. According to Team Spokesperson and Mentor Everett Wilhelm, about 600 teams attended, divided into eight divisions of 75 teams, some as far away as Australia.

It was held in the Edward Jones Dome, home to the St. Louis Rams football team, from April 22-26. Two other robotics championships were up for grabs, bringing the weekend’s attendance’s total over 40,000.

The moment wasn’t lost to the team.

“The Superintendent of Schools and the Board of Education enthusiastically supported the team’s trip to St Louis and provided us with the funds to cover the travel cost. Without this we would not have gone, despite qualifying for the second straight year,” Chidley said.

Thirteen students, three parents and four mentors made the 20-hour bus trip.

After the 10 qualification rounds, the Falcons ranked 20th overall in their division. They were good enough to be chosen to compete in the quarterfinals, teamed up with several other schools, entered the semifinals and narrowly missed the divisional finals. To make it past the quarterfinals meant the Aluminum Falcons were among the top 2 percent of FIRST robotics teams worldwide to still be playing.

“The final official FIRST Robotics competition ended with many lessons learned and momentum moving into post season competition,” Wilhelm said.

Seniors in attendance included Jacob Kowalski, Matt Nowak, Fin O’Connor, Emma Stark and Cam Wilhelm, all of which greatly contributed to the success of the Falcons over the years and will leave the team in good hands led by Robert Tompkins, Eamon Costello, Vittorio Pappandrea and Ben Waid.

Robotics team starts season with a victory


GROTON — It’s robot season and the team from Fitch High School is off to a flying start.

On Saturday, March 6, they were victorious at the Pioneer Valley District Robotics Competition in Springfield, Mass.

 After the initial day of qualification rounds the team was ranked 29th, but an excellent performance in the later rounds allowed Fitch to be a member of a three team alliance that won the championship.

At this time every year the Fitch Senior High School Aluminum Falcons, the school’s robotics competition team, prepares to enter several competitions in the hopes of earning New England recognition as one of the best teams in the region.

The school competes in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics competition circuit.

“Last year we made it to the New England Regionals and were ranked number 12,” said Brian Chidley, physics teacher, coach and faculty advisor to the team. “We could have gone to the national championship in St. Louis but had to decline because we didn’t have the money. The entrance fee alone was $5,000 and that doesn’t include the cost of getting there, staying there and equipment expenses.”

The previous year they were Connecticut state champions and New England champions. They have won several tournaments over the last three years and are known as a force to be reckoned with throughout the area. The team is that good.

About 30-students are team members, guided by 10-adult volunteers called mentors. The name is appropriate, for their guidance in construction the robot and making it operational is invaluable.

Their success relies on their division of labor which is surprisingly complex. A Computer Aided Drafting crew designs parts for the robot and in some cases manufactures hardware using their own three-dimensional printer.

A building crew constructs the robot and eventually splits into a drive team and a pit crew.

The drive team runs the robot during the competition and consists of an operator, a base driver, a human player and a coach. A pit crew takes care in the maintenance of the robots on game day, practices, tools, and other accessories.

The programming team creates the code for the autonomous and tele-operated functions of the robot. The team learns the Java programming language during the off-season and is in charge of the electrical wiring.

Lastly, a marketing team promotes the Falcons using a detailed web page, as well as photo and video communications. “There is a lot of work that goes into it all year,” Chidley said.

Mentors guide the students but refrain from doing too much. “We are here to guide the students but we have to let them learn things for themselves. Sometimes we go to a competition and you can tell a robot was worked on by some very knowledgeable adults and not the students. There is a balance between doing too much and doing too little,” Chidley said.

The Falcons are sponsored by several of the industries in town, including Applied Physical Sciences Corporation and the H.R. Hillery Company. Chidley and his team are grateful for every donation, but funding the program is probably its greatest obstacle. Considering parts, travel, fees and other expenses, the Falcons need about $40,000 per year.

“We appreciate everything; the donations and the time and effort of our volunteers. What we lack is that one big sponsor that many other teams have,” Chidley said. “Some teams are given a check for $25,000 right at the start of season. That’s a big advantage. If we hadn’t received a grant from the Pfizer Foundation this year I don’t know what we would have done.”

According to marketing team mentor Everett Wilhelm, this year the team will compete in the “Recycle Rush” challenge where they must gather and stack large totes and recycle bins from several areas into other areas to score points. Pool noodles will also be used to score additional points by throwing them in designated areas.

As part of the task, all teams are given only six weeks to make the robot.

“Last year Fitch hosted on of the competitions and that’s why I got involved,” Wilhelm said. “After seeing what it took to put on the event, the work the team accomplished and the atmosphere of the competition, I had to help this year.

Called the “Aluminum Falcons,” the name comes from a Star Wars parody on the television show Robot Chicken. They are also known as Team 2168, their identification number since they entered in 2007. The number is as every bit as part of their identity as their name.

The team won the Pioneer Valley District event thanks to the driving talents of seniors Emma Stark and Fin O’Connor, the programming talents of junior Vittorio Papandrea, and the truly exceptional noodle-throwing capabilities of senior Jacob Kowalski.

The design and construction of the robot was led by seniors Matt Nowak and Cameron Wilhelm. Critical organizational efforts by senior Dominique Harris greatly contributed to the team’s success.

Twenty-five other team members made huge contributions to make this year’s robot possible. They will be competing in the Rhode Island district contest at Bryant University in Smithfield, at the New England Championships in four weeks, and hopefully at the World Championships in St. Louis, in six weeks.

Robotics competition winners


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GROTON — The Fitch High School Aluminum Falcons, Groton’s entry into FIRST’s (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition have done it again, they are repeat champions of one of the most illustrious tournaments in the nation.

The Falcons are part of a three-school team, along with RedShift from Westborough, Mass., and the STEM Whalers of New London, another local team that won the BattleCry at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

 To understand the competitive season, robotics competitions are divided into two categories; those under the FIRST umbrella and those that are not. First runs nine district qualifying events across five New England states to determine who competes for the New England district championship. Then, the New England district winner goes on to the national championship and the season ends in late April.

After that, other competitions are held, such as state championships or regional tournaments.

According to Brian Chidley, physics teacher, coach and faculty advisor to the team the season was becoming a year of “almosts.”

“We were semifinalists and 12th overall in New England, and we qualified for the World Championship in St. Louis,” he said. “The World Championships took place (last month). We decided not to go due to lack of sufficient time and funding. It would have cost over $700 per person just to attend,” he said in a recent email.

Then focusing on the 36-team State Championship, they were seeded 7th overall on the last day. After several rounds they were beaten in the quarterfinals by the 4th-seed alliance in two very close matches. That left only the BattleCry for redemption.

“This was the 15th BattleCry@WPI, which is now the premiere off-season robotics tournament in the northeast, drawing teams from across New England, New York, New Jersey, and sometimes as far as Ohio,” Chidley said. “Taking place over two days, BattleCry featured 56 teams who all shared the same belief: the regular season is not enough for us.”

Catching a few breaks – making up for equipment problems and draw choices at crucial times throughout the season – the Falcons joined Westborough as the 3rd seed. When defensive specialists STEM Whalers joined the team their chances improved even more.

“Everyone who knew the game recognized that the three teams were perfect for their unique roles,” Chidley said.

According to the coach, the Falcons had an excellent floor intake receiving passes, and a catapult launcher that scored the ball in the 7-foot-high goal with 80 percent accuracy. “The three teams together lost only one match throughout the entire elimination brackets,” Chidley said.

Last year, the Falcons won the same tournament, and thus through a difficult year, their title has been successfully defended.

Aluminum Falcons recognized for robotics creativity


GROTON — After participating in FIRST’s (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition in Smithfield, R.I., on March 21-22, the Fitch High School team has positioned itself for a likely appearance in the New England regional championship.

“Yes, our team did very well this weekend,” said coach and faculty Advisor Brian Chidley in an Internet interview after the meet.

 The team, called the Aluminum Falcons, has participated in two events this year, the minimum number to qualify.

In Smithfield, the Falcons were finalists in the competition, a “final pick’” (similar to a playoff pick), and the team won the Innovation in Control Award. On March 8-9, the team was a quarter-finalist at the Groton regional bout and also won the Creativity in Design Award for its innovative use of CAD modeling and 3D printing. The printing enabled the team to design and manufacture its own parts.

“It has given us 90 qualification points toward the New England Championships, well beyond the predicted minimum cutoff,” Chidley said.

After a slow start in Smithfield, the team picked up momentum, finishing ninth out of 37 teams, good enough to advance to the elimination rounds. In the playoffs the Falcons were partnered with Mechanical Mayhem from Milford, N.H., and the Aluminum Warriors of Hopkinton, Mass.

The group won its quarterfinal and semifinal matches, earning the status as a finalist. Ultimately the Falcons lost the best-of-three final by the score of 130-128 in the third match.

According to organizers at FIRST, the Smithfield event drew 800 students and the total attendance was about 1,500 fans.

The New England championship will be held April 10-12 in Boston.



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