Members of Team 6329, the robotics team at Bucksport High School, react after winning an event at a competition last weekend in Glocester, Rhode Island. After finishing first at the event, the team has a world ranking of ninth and is hoping to compete in international championships in Houston next month. Credit: Courtesy of Team 6329

After a strong showing last weekend at a regional robotics competition in Rhode Island, a team from Bucksport High School has set its sights on an even bigger contest.

Team 6329, as the Bucksport squad is known, won the top spot at the New England FIRST Robotics Competition district event in Glocester, Rhode Island, according to Bucksport High School Principal Josh Tripp. FIRST is an international not-for-profit group that holds a series of team robotics competitions for children aged 4-18 to promote interest and engagement in STEM academics.

Even more impressive than that, however, is what the win means for the Bucksport team’s ranking as it eyes the international FIRST championship in Houston in April. Team 6329 is now ranked ninth in the world.

“That’s really good,” Tripp said. “It’s pretty exciting.”

Bucksport’s team, which was created around nine years ago, took its latest robot Shock to Ponaganset High School in Rhode Island, where it competed in an agility competition that required the robot to be remotely operated over and around obstacles and to pick up, carry and place objects at various locations in a small enclosed arena roughly the size of a tennis court.

Tripp said the team has been to various competitions in New England over the years, and has competed against international teams at prior world championships. It started out with a handful of students last decade but now, in part because of its success, has attracted between 25 and 30 students from all high school grades.

“They’ve really grown this program,” Tripp said.

Tripp said coaches John Boynton and Mike Gross deserve much of the credit but the team’s sponsors, donors, and volunteers all have been critical to that growth.

A donation four years ago from Bucksport High School graduates Shelby and Andy Silvernail, who gave the high school $250,000 for the school’s STEM curriculum, was especially helpful. It funded the purchase of a computer numerical control milling machine, a CNC router table and a CNC plasma table — hi-tech equipment that the team has been able to use to fabricate components of its robots.

The donation also paid for training for RSU 25 educators in improved STEM teaching methods and for two Bucksport teachers to become math coaches.

Tripp said the success of the robotics team has helped to draw students into more STEM classes at the school, which in turn is helping graduates get science and technology jobs. When students see the fun aspects of applied science through building and operating robots, it opens their eyes to the possibilities beyond high school, he said.

“To me, that’s more important than test scores,” the principal said. “Teenagers like competition. It’s cool to be on the robotics team.”

Tripp said the team has not yet formally been invited to compete in Houston, but they are expecting to hear about that soon.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....