Thanks to the generosity of strangers -- some as far away as California and Florida -- the five-member robotics team at Clairton High School will be able to attend the National BotsIQ Competition in Indianapolis this weekend.
The team members were crowned the grand champions of the Western Pennsylvania competition held last month at California University of Pennsylvania. That earned them the chance to compete at the national level, but a lack of funds threatened their ability to attend. Clairton, one of the smallest and poorest school districts in the state, did not have the funds to cover the minimum $4,000 cost for transportation, fees, lodging and meals for the competition.
The students fundraising had stalled at about $1,400 late last week. But after an article about their plight in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Saturday, more than 100 individuals have sent checks to the team, creating a $30,000 pot, enough to cover the costs of travel to the competition and plenty of extra money for spare parts that are generally needed for replacement during the competitions.
Although a final tally of funds has not been computed, it's expected there will be enough left over to cover the club's costs next school year and perhaps expand it to include middle school students, said Dennis Beard, an industrial arts teacher who is the Robotics Club sponsor.
To date, the students have raised most of their own funds to build the ankle-high robots and take them to competitions.
"It's amazing the support that we've seen," Mr. Beard said. "Some of the people have been alumni, some are ex-teachers and some had fathers who were teachers here in the building and it just tugged at their hearts."
He said several companies have offered to bring the students to their sites for tours next year and some have offered financial support.
Among them is Aerotech Inc., whose vice president for sales and marketing, Stephen Botos, mailed the team a check for $2,000 along with words of encouragement for the national competition and an invitation to visit the firm's O'Hara factory to tour and learn about careers in robotics and automation. Mr. Beard said the checks ranged from individuals donating $25 to a firm that donated $2,500. He said many of the notes that came with the donations indicated that people were unaware that Clairton was a school with academic successes in addition to its athletic successes. "A lot of people in the area said they were not aware that Clairton had a robotics team and now they are reaching out to help us," Mr. Beard said.
He said the students were touched as they helped to open mail and read the letters of encouragement that came with donations.
"They can see that they are not out there alone, that people are supporting them," Mr. Beard said. "I would like to send a big thank-you from the district, administration, staff, students and personally from me. We are overwhelmed and humbled by the generosity that everyone has shown us."
The district will be posting photos and video from the competition Saturday and Sunday to its Facebook page and Twitter account so that supporters can follow along.
Mary Niederberger: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1590. First Published May 15, 2013 4:00 AM