The McManus Middle School robotics team made the most of its home-field advantage at a VEX IQ competition hosted at the school on Saturday, Jan. 13. 

The McManus team – made up of four smaller teams, each of which entered its own robot – was completing against 70 other robotics teams from around New Jersey and elsewhere. Many of those had been competing all school year, or had been working together for years. McManus had hosted a competition for the past three years, but never entered before.

Nevertheless, the McManus teams came in fifth, 11th, 24th and 32nd. “We held our own,” said coach Mark Decastro.

“The good thing is that they were able to get exposed to other schools from across the state and how they compared to them,” he said. “And they did pretty well. At first they were nervous. They saw all these elaborate and huge robots. I told them it’s not about how your robot looks, it’s how it works.”

Superintendent Danny A. Robertozzi was impressed with the team’s performance.

“For their first time out, this is extraordinary,” he said. “I hope we can continue to get more involved in the robotics competitions because they get students interested in engineering and technology in a fun way beyond the classroom.”

robotics team at board meeting

The McManus robotics team was honored by the Board of Education at its Feb. 27 meeting. At left is Superintendent Danny A. Robertozzi and at right is Board Member Ahmed Shehata.

VEX IQ is the predominant sponsor of scholastic robotics. This year’s competition is known as Ring Master, in which teams score points by stacking colored rings on a 4-by-8-foot playing field. The competition consisted of 10 rotations, and after the first rotation, the McManus team of Jovanny Bosque and Alex Lopez was in first place.

“That was a good confidence builder, because after they saw they were doing well compared to the robots from other towns, they started getting more competitive,” Decastro said. “You could actually see their confidence go up.”

Bosque and Lopez ended up finishing 11th. The pair that finished fifth was Kelvin Alarcon and Jah-kee Scott.

The McManus Middle School robotics team: From left, Kelvin Alarcon, Jah-kee Scott, Jovanny Bosque, Ryan Creary, coach Mark Decastro, Alex D. Lopez, Tyler Gobel and Hiba Fattouh.

Decastro selected the competitors by holding mini-tournaments in his technology classes, “so each robot actually represents one class.”

“It’s an eclectic group,” he said. “It’s not just for honor roll kids.”

Decastro said he appreciated that other faculty members, including Principal Peter Fingerlin and Vice Principal Wayne Happel, came out on a cold Saturday to cheer the team on. This was the last regular-season competition of the year, and McManus’ team did not compete enough to move on to regional championships. But now that they’ve had a taste of success, Decastro hopes to enter more competitions next year.

“The kids really liked it,” he said. “And it’s spreading, because now the seventh-graders are talking about how they’re looking forward to it next year.”

two student in robotics competition  students competing

student competing  score after first rotations shows a McManus robotics team in the lead

crowded gym  students competing