After hundreds of hours preparing for an international robotics tournament in Oklahoma, a spirited act of sportsmanship -- not one of technical skill -- affected the outcome of competition for the Hampton High School botball team.
Competing July 6-10 in the Global Conference on Educational Robotics international botball tournament in Norman, the three-member team prepared for a rematch against Dead Robot Society, a team from Maryland that Hampton had defeated earlier in the tournament.
Each team already had lost a match, so the losing team would be eliminated from the double-elimination tourney.
One of the Dead Robot Society's robots started to experience technical difficulties -- its mechanical claw malfunctioned.
In what is often a highly competitive, fickle competition that demands the utmost in precision, this mechanical failure could have brought a quick end to the match. Instead, it came to define Hampton's tournament and season, demonstrating not only the team's talent, but its sportsmanship.
Dead Robot Society was forced to use its only timeout of the tournament to fix the robot, but the team was unable to get the machine working within the allotted three minutes.
The three-member Hampton team could have claimed easy victory with one of its opponent's bots out of commission, but that was not the way the team wanted to win.
"It wasn't about the winning," said faculty adviser Vincent Kuzniewski, 50, who teaches technology education at Hampton.
"They knew they had a good bot. They made it this far. They wanted to have a fair fight."
Instead of taking the win, the Hampton team donated its only timeout to its opponent. And, that still wasn't enough time, so the Hampton students encouraged their rivals to ask the judges for additional time.
More than 15 minutes later, Dead Robot Society finally was ready to compete.
But, when the action resumed, Hampton discovered its own robot had been losing power and that was interrupting its ability to move.
With no timeouts, Hampton, was unable to stop play to recharge their machine.
Their robot scored no points and Hampton was defeated by Dead Robot Society, which went on to win the tournament.
Ian Waldschmidt, 17, a senior and the oldest member on the team, said that looking at the scoring breakdown at the end of the tournament, Hampton would have placed at least third in the overall standings, instead of fourth, if they had beaten Dead Robot Society.
Still, he's happy with the results, especially considering how new he and his two teammates are to robotics. The three joined the team during the 2011-12 season.
"Fourth is still phenomenal, especially for somebody as inexperienced as us," he said. "I think we did the right thing."
Although the team didn't get the overall finish it was hoping for, Hampton was given a Judges' Choice Award for its display of sportsmanship.
Mr. Kuzniewski said that, given another chance, he didn't think the team would have acted any differently.
"They kept their heads proud. I don't think there were any regrets. I think they would have done the same thing again."
Botball is an educational program that brings together high school and middle school teams from around the country and the world to design, construct and program robots that compete in challenge-based tournaments during spring and summer every year.
The program is designed to spark student interest in a variety of fields, providing participants with hands-on training in engineering and computer programming fundamentals.
According to a 2012 study, of the more than one-third of Botball competitors who were undecided about a career path before participating in the program, 89 percent came out of the Botball experience "considering a degree in a technical, science or math-related field."
The Hampton High School team, created more than a decade ago, got off to a bit of a rough start this season, scoring just 3 points in the entire regional tournament and finishing 17th out of the 23 competing teams.
Determined to do better in the international tournament, Hampton completely overhauled its strategy, scoring well enough in the seeding round and the first portion of double-elimination to set themselves up to place among the top teams in the competition that featured 51 teams from around the world.
Lee Purvey: email@example.com or 412-263-1999.