York TechFire 225 teammates Gracie Putnam and Wren Hensgen work on a wheel for their team robot, shown behind them. The  TyranoSaucer Rex,  maneuvered by
York TechFire 225 teammates Gracie Putnam and Wren Hensgen work on a wheel for their team robot, shown behind them. The TyranoSaucer Rex, maneuvered by remote control, can accurately launch Frisbees across a large room. (Andrew Shaw photo)

York County has some of the best robot-building Frisbee throwers in the region.

Yes, it's exactly like it sounds.

A team of high-schoolers earned a spot in a regional robotics competition in April because they took home first place in a district qualifying event last month.

The ongoing robotic event, as teammate Wren Hensgen put it, is "like a varsity sport," complete with screaming fans, intense confrontations and game strategy.

It's all part of a national scholastic competition known as FIRST, the short form of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

Central, Dallastown, Eastern, Southern, South Eastern and Hempfield school districts and York Country Day, Penn Manor and home schools are all represented on the York TechFire 225's team of about 18 students.

How it works: Here's what happens:

Each team builds a robot from scratch, all designed to complete whatever the given challenge is for the annual contest.

This year, it's a robot that can fling Frisbees across a room into a tower area to net points. In past years, robots had to do such tasks as shoot a basketball.

TechFire 225 won a district event earlier in March at Springfield Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia, qualifying them to advance to Allentown's regional event on April 11. The regional winner will go on to the national competition in St. Louis.

There's a catch, too. The teams have only six weeks to design and build the robots. Once that's up, the robots are put in a plastic bag and can't be touched until competition dates.

The competition: The robots are big, measuring several feet high, and are operated by remote control. Several teams at a time compete on an enclosed court, all trying either to shoot Frisbees toward their respective target areas or block opponents from getting to a good shooting spot during a 2-minute, 15-second match.

Just call it sports meets science.

The Philadelphia district event got unexpectedly crazy, with some robots ramming York's "TyranoSaucer Rex." But that's just during the contest.

Otherwise, "everyone is really helpful," troubleshooting problems and being congenial, said Wren, a Dallastown student.

Cinderella story? York's victory was also unexpected, said coach Matt Kline.

"We really woke up a bunch of teams," he said.

Kline said the team somewhat came out of nowhere to win the event, as even TechFire 225 had thought other teams might be better prepared heading into it.

Shooting the Frisbee accurately, something the York team nailed down with amazing precision, was something they figured everyone would have nailed down, but it turned out to be an elite skill.

The team has competed on and off for years with various sponsors and home bases.

Right now, Coupling Corp. of America in Jacobus serves as the host. BAE Systems; JMT, an engineering and architectural firm; and St. Onge, a supply chain and logistics firm, serve as primary sponsors, although the team is looking for more sponsors to help it get funding for upcoming events.

The students do all of the work after school, and the mentors are volunteers, meaning this is all for the love of engineering, robots and good old-fashioned robot battles.

Susquehannock Senior High School student Gracie Putnam said she didn't know anything about robots when she joined the team a year ago.

But true to the learn-on-the-fly TechFire style, they gave her a task right away anyway, and she said she's picked a lot up ever since, including a passion for robotics.

"It's real life experience," Kline added. "It's not just theoretical."

-- Reach Andrew Shaw at ashaw@yorkdispatch.com

York TechFire 225 team

Students participating in York TechFire 225's robotics team include: Jacob Bryan, Elijah Leiphart, Katie Kline, Collin Enders, Owen Billet, Wren Hensgen, Gideon Miles, Andrew Lobos, Mitch Skiles, Tom Sowers, Gracie Putnam, Bethany Rispoli, Zachary Rispoli, Ryan Pizzirusso, Justin Quackenbush, Ben Thomas, Richard Skinner and Sam Albright.

Volunteer mentors include: Matt Kline, Ben Martin, Jack Parker, Leon Lobos, Domenic Pizzirusso, Paul Quackenbush, Victoria Rispoli, Damion Rispoli, Michael Kline, Samuel Albright, Brenda Putnam, and Phil Sutter.

For more information on the team and sponsorship, go to www.techfire225.com.