School hosts final ‘Suffield Shakedown’ robotics scrimmage

By Jennifer Coe - ReminderNews
Suffield - posted Wed., Feb. 20, 2013
The team from Simsbury shouts in support of their robot and its drivers as they competed in the ‘Suffield Shakedown’ scrimmage. Photos by Jennifer Coe.
The team from Simsbury shouts in support of their robot and its drivers as they competed in the ‘Suffield Shakedown’ scrimmage. Photos by Jennifer Coe.

Every year, the Suffield High School gymnasium is turned into a robot competitor’s dream, complete with challenge field, DJs and cheering fans. Sadly, this year was the last “Suffield Shakedown.”

Greg Field, one of the co-founders of the event, made the surprise announcement on Feb. 16 that 2013 would be the final FIRST robotics scrimmage at Suffield High.

FIRST has begun sponsoring another scrimmage event closer to its headquarters in Manchester, N.H., and doesn’t feel it can manage to send resources to two scrimmage events in New England.

“Logistically, it makes sense,” said Field. “It’s 15 miles from the FIRST headquarters.” But, he is saddened about the decision and spent some time recalling the history of how the Suffield Shakedown came to be.

“We had this history that in week one of competition, our robots would fall apart,” said Field. So, they decided to have a scrimmage to give student teams’ robots a chance to work out the kinks. Then they expanded the scrimmage, making it a full-on event joined by high school teams from all over Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. Year to year, the participation increased and the event grew to be something that everyone looked forward to annually.

“We decided to make it an event,” said Field, “to build a full-size field.”

Typically, the Suffield Shakedown sees a crowded gymnasium with up to 30 teams participating and supporters shouting cheers and having a good time. This year, due to heavy snowfall, many teams were not able to finish their robots in time for the event, leaving only 12 teams competing on Feb. 16.

“We only have six weeks to design and build a robot,” said Kim Congden, who works with the Suffield team, Aces High. “[The snow] really put us behind.” The Suffield team could not even compete in its own scrimmage and had worked until midnight the night before on the robot, trying to make up for lost time.

To make matters worse, Congden said that they were unsure if they would be able to get into the high school over vacation, due to asbestos removal.

As Field opened the event, he brought to the field several of the people who made the event possible, including some folks from FIRST and volunteers who ran sound and emceed the event on a yearly basis.

“Putting this together is an unbelievable experience,” said Field. “Thanks to the myriad volunteers who offered their services and trucks for free.”

And then he made the announcement no one expected: “Today is our last event," Field said. "FIRST has decided it takes too many resources to put on these events. We want to thank you all for coming.”

It brought a bittersweet end to an event that was enjoyed by students from Suffield and beyond.

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