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From Chapel Hill to Texas: High school robotics team qualifies for world championship

Members of Team 587, The Hedgehogs, work on a robot named Freefall on Thursday, April 14, 2022 for this year's worldwide robotics competition taking place in Dallas, Texas.

On April 10, a high school robotics team with students from Orange High School and Cedar Ridge High School — The Hedgehogs — qualified for the FIRST robotics world championship.

The Hedgehogs, also known as Team 587, qualified for the world championship with their win in the North Carolina district championship. The team will travel to Houston on Wednesday to compete, and its qualification matches will begin on Thursday.

This is the first time the team has won the North Carolina district championship.

Orange High School junior Timothy Mitchell, The Hedgehogs' electrical captain, said the feeling after the win was incredible.

“We were just absolutely amazed that we were able to pull this off, and we were really, really proud of ourselves,” Mitchell said. “We were all going insane. I know me and the other drive team were just over the moon.”

FIRST is a robotics competition where teams of students design, build and program robots for competitions against other student teams. Task sets are given to students at the beginning of the season, and this year, required robots to shoot tennis balls into a basketball hoop and climb diagonally on monkey bars.

The Hedgehogs are comprised of 46 members, with mentors and coaches for the team.

Garret Hill, a mentor for Team 587, said that the team’s competitiveness has stepped up.

“I think the thing that makes us special is just the determination to reach the goals we set at the beginning of the semester,” he said.

In total, Mitchell estimated that he and his teammates had dedicated over 10,000 hours to building their robot and preparing for competitions.

Orange High School junior Stuart Doyle, the team’s outreach and business captain, said he thinks the team was more driven to win because they had missed two years of competitions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We really wanted to go badly," Doyle said. "I think we kind of had this super high level of motivation. We were super driven.”

Doyle is responsible for finding sponsors and reaching out to community partners for the team.

“We want to stay kind of connected with our community, so we really try to connect locally with local STEM companies like metal fabrication companies,” Doyle said.

The team has set up a GoFundMe page to gather community donations to help pay for the trip to Texas.

They hope to raise $55,000 to pay for an estimated 70 people to come, including all team members, mentors and some parents. As of Monday, the team has raised over $35,000.

“We’ve had the most community support that we’ve ever had,” Mitchell said. “I’m thankful that the whole community is kind of proud of us.”

The Hedgehogs will be competing against about 450 other teams at the world competition. To prepare, they have been refining their robot by making minor modifications that will help with consistency.

“I think our team will be able to hold themselves against everyone else there," Hill said. "It’s a matter of putting in the same amount of effort when we’re there that we have every other competition.”

Mitchell said the team is already looking at next year and that they are planning activities they want to do in the offseason to prepare for next year’s competitions.

“It’s really cool to see just this amazing sense of teamwork and collaboration,” Mitchell said. “It’s just a sense of community and companionship that I’ve never really felt before.”

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