You could see it in their faces: the anxiety of competing was real now. Months of learning, training, getting along, working as a team, led to this culminating event. For most, it was their first experience with multiple coaches, an assigned and specific responsibility, a running clock. Each move, good or bad, amplified by the announcer standing just off the playing field. Our team was dressed in our standard green, but for the first time, our jerseys did not read Shamrocks but rather “Shambots est. 2016.” This past Sunday afternoon, the first squad of our three-squad Robotics Team took the field in Olympia to become the first team in the school’s history to compete.
I could have been in any gym, on any weekend. The same energy that you feel at a CYO final basketball game or lacrosse match was present. Parents with cameras, some cheering, some yelling, most just trying to figure out the rules, filled the gym. But that day, I was at a competition highlighting innovation, oral and technological communication, mathematics, gracious professionalism, and “coopertition” (working together to help other teams and to celebrate everyone’s victories). The announcer asked our team, “What do you want to say as we begin?” Our assigned spokesperson said, “Congratulations to all of the teams who are here today. We all made it.”
Our team started strong, but I watched as our kids drop from third-place to ninth in the second round when their robot’s wheel got stuck. I witnessed a young coach gently refocus them between rounds. I heard a girl say, ”All we have to do is be perfect this last round, and we will win.” I didn’t say it, but I hoped they already knew that by just being there, they had won.
Our team wasn’t perfect in that last round, and during the awards assembly, as the cheers and congratulations were given, the Shambots were not called. Mr. Wilde, this team’s coach, told me that you could begin to feel their disappointment. The kids had heard all along that winning wasn’t the goal. Doing their best and being the most gracious participants are the program’s goals, but those are hard lessons to learn no matter what age. As anxious and disappointed as they started to feel, I am sure they will remember for a long time when the announcer said, “Before we continue recognizing the teams going to the State Semifinals, we would like to recognize a first-year team that has a great future. They are a Rising Star. By unanimous vote of the judges, this special award goes to the Shambots!” It could have stopped there, but this same group of 4th and 5th graders, these Rising Stars, later heard that they had finished that last round strong-enough to earn their way into the Semifinals of the State competition in January.
I wish our other two teams who compete this coming weekend the very best, and I hope they know that they have already won by being their best and most gracious selves.
In this Advent season, as we continue to look toward the star in the East, peace.