By Larry Austin
Grand Island Central School District students continued their domination in technology competition Wednesday by winning the 21st annual Tech Wars competition at Niagara County Community College.
Students from both Veronica Connor Middle School and Grand Island High School took first place in their respective divisions.
GIHS won the high school event for the seventh time in nine years, while VCMS won the middle school event for the third time in four years. The competition is run by the Western New York Technology Educators Association.
Gary Novits, a technology teacher at Tonawanda High School who helped organize the event this year, said there were 20 schools taking part in 20 different events throughout NCCC.
Events involved robotics, design, engineering and art.
"It's always a lot of fun, but this one's fun because you watch the kids get excited about what they do," VCMS tech teacher Dave Bowman said about the win. "In all their hours and their time and effort put in, they have a lot of fun, they enjoy doing it and they're good at what they do."
"It's nice coming here competing with a lot of different schools," he said.
Bowman coaches the girls varsity soccer team at GIHS, which won a regional title this season and dominates the Niagara Frontier League. Whether on the soccer field or in the technology room, the spirit of competition has brought out the best in people.
"That's it. They put hours of work in. They stayed after school twice a week for a couple months and just come in during study halls and in their free time and just trying to get better," Bowman said. He also credited Mike Nucci and Christian Reed.
"It's exciting watching the kids be excited and having fun learning what they're doing and producing good quality work, and then coming here and competing," Bowman said.
GIHS tech teacher Carl Koppmann said winning Tech Wars seven times in nine years comes from setting the bar high.
"We just push the kids hard. If you set your expectations high, then they'll step up to it. That's the key," Koppmann said.
The work of building robots, designing cardboard chairs, and 3D modeling was done mostly in the new high school tech wing with some of the new equipment.
Koppmann said 65 high-schoolers took part in the event.
GICSD had placed high in every category. A quartet of Islanders, naturally, won the bridge-building competition. The winning Grand Island Bridge - built by Taylor Raine, Alyssa Luzak, Parker Morrow and Charles Hegarty - held 540 pounds.
Bridges were also rated in strength-to-weight rating that measured the efficiency. There were more artistic competitions as well, in photography and drawing and 3D modeling.
All the events were based in the STEM concept - an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math - that Novits said is a program from schools that addresses the shortage of qualified workers in the private sector.
"Really it didn't come from the schools, it came from industry," Novits said of STEM. The modern industry requires educated, technical people, not just line workers, he said, and today's jobs now take greater sophistication and more education.
"They're in a shortage, so they're coming to the schools and the school's reaction was STEM, to try to get kids thinking about science, technology, engineering and math," Novits said. The school's answer "gives them a better education, actually."
Novits said Tech Wars was founded by technology teachers like Bill Neidlinger from Newfane, a teacher at Lewiston-Porter. He said he can see the motivation and teamwork building in the classroom as students prepare for competition.
Competition "totally greases it and it makes them really put a new a desire into it, a new sense of urgency, than if they were just doing it back at the school," Novits said. "It really makes them concentrate. You should see their teamwork. ... It really improves that too because there's something on the line."
"If you ever came into a classroom and see these kids talking about this, it's pretty cool to watch."
The competitive juices were flowing in events like sumo battle bots for middle-schoolers. Hannah Schiffmacher of Veronica Connor Middle School took down first place in the sumo battle bot, an event in which VCMS took all four of the semifinal spots. Schiffmacher gave credit for the Vikings sweep to her teachers, Mike Nucci and Bowman.
She built her bot after school in her Tech Wars Club meetings.
"I had originally five ideas, and they all didn't work," Schiffmacher said of her winning bot. "So for this one, it took me about a couple weeks. It took longer than I thought it would."
Schiffmacher beat Tom Lockett in the finals. Grace Carey beat Mike Valle in the bout for third place. Lockett's sumo bot limped out of its semifinals with Carey and was barely able to compete in the finals after a lengthy period of repairs. Schiffmacher's sumo bot won easily after she extended Lockett more time.
"You only get 30 seconds to try to fix it, but his didn't work at all, so I let him get as much time as he needed," Schiffmacher said.
She could have just taken the sure win after Lockett's 30 seconds expired, and she ran the risk of losing to him when they battled.
"I know, but I didn't want to win like that. It wasn't fair," she said. She didn't expect to even win at all coming into the competition, she said.
Justin Kozlowski and Adam Krathous built a bot they called Big Meaty Claw and won the vex robotic game, called Starstruck. Krathous said their edge in the game was that Big Meaty Claw's big, meaty claw threw objects over the middle partition on the battlefield.
"No other teams could pick up the cubes, and so we managed to just get tons of points using the cube that they couldn't even get over the wall," Krathous said, explaining, everyone else used a "ram strategy."
Kozlowski said they went 6-0 in preliminary rounds and had first pick of a partner in the championship round. They chose a partner to play on their side that they didn't match up well with, a "ram bot" that pushed objects across the middle under the wall.
Kozlowski said they won the vex robotic competition at Tech Wars in 2016, as well in a game that changes every year. Krathous was amped about "keeping the championship going. Keeping the legacy going."
Krathous said the secret to winning is putting down as many hours as possible and "just keep on grinding through all the problems."
In addition to bridge building, Raine worked with Alyssa Luzak and Gracie Tomkins and said her chair involved using a SOLIDWORKS 3D program and the school's laser printer to make the cardboard pieces. It took a week to laser it all out and another hour to assemble, she said.
The chair was judged on its efficiency and what they thought would hold the most.
"It was heavier than most chairs were, but we were still pretty happy with the outcome of it," Raine said.
The GIHS success at Tech Wars coincides with its growing academic program at the school, which reached a high point with the opening of a new tech wing at the school.
"This Tech Wars helped our program because we came here and came in second or third a couple times and now we come every year, so it really helped build the program at our school," Novits said. "Same as Grand Island."
"It's my first Tech Wars," said Raine, a junior. "I thought it was pretty exciting, especially the vex robotics, seeing kids my age being able to build robots."
"I definitely now see a future in some type of tech program," Raine said.
More than 500 students from 26 Western New York school districts participated in Tech Wars and the competitions included bridge testing, vex robotics, 3D modeling and CO2 car races.
The High School division individual competition winners were:
1. Newfane - Alexa Littman
2. Tonawanda - Hannah Strahin
3. Newfane - James Leibering
Capture the Flag:
1. Nichols - Goergia Gurney, Max Neuman
2. Tonawanda - Matt Johnson, Evan Niemiec, Collin Wood
3. Grand Island - Thomas Draves
1. Grand Island - Justin Kozlowski
2. Starpoint - Alexander Hammann, Devin Eick, Ben Furner
3. Clarence - Zach Peters
On-site 3D Modeling (9 -10 Grade):
1. Grand Island - Ben Starr
2. Grand Island - Lexie Diaz
3. Grand Island - Justin Chadima
On-site 3D Modeling (11-12 Grade):
1. Nichols - Jeffrey Britton
2. Grand Island - Ruby Benz
3. Grand Island - Ryan Kernin
1. Grand Island - Megan Stanley
2. Grand Island - Tyler Bernatovicz
3. Grand Island - Matt Logel
1. Cleveland Hill - James Purpura
2. Cleveland Hill - Tia Balo
3. Cleveland Hill - Chris Urban
1. Grand Island - Luzak, Raine, Morrow, Hegarty
2. Orchard Park - Sokoloski, Schaffer
3. Grand Island - Spencer, Domowicz, Mosher
1. Orchard Park - Sandy Stahl
2. Grand Island - Matt Racz, Hanna Kura
3. Tonawanda City - Lex Verrall
1. Orchard Park
2. Tonawanda City
3. Lewiston Porter
On-site Engineering Challenge:
1. Starpoint - Wyatt Kneeppel, Luca Borgese
2. Oakfield Alabama - Jeremy Rebert, Logan Kellogg
3. Cleveland Hill - James Purpura, Tia Balo
1. Cleveland Hill - Aaron Camp
Acoustic Cell Phone Amp (3d Print):
1. Grand Island - Brandon Schoener
2. Cleveland Hill - Nicole Frigioni
3. Grand Island - Jack Steinagel
King of the Hill:
1. Barker - Collin Webb
2. Lewiston Porter - Adam Abuhammad, Ian Carr, Quinn Dammann
3. Williamsville North - Zach Moser, Taigan Laurey
1. Grand Island - Collin Tolsma
2. Orchard Park - Colin Manko
3. Tonawanda - Daniel Kancar
1. Royalton Hartland - Colin Dode, Aaron Bacon
2. Williamsville North - Ella Depreist, Jacob Odonmell
3. Royalton Hartland - Gwen G, Paige D.
The Middle School division individual competition winners were:
1. Lockport - Jason Czechowicz, Griffon Adams
Mouse Trap Vehicles:
1. Grand Island - Tyler Gram
2. Grand Island - Tyler Weigel
3. Grand Island - Brooke Eichel
1. Grand Island - Sean McMenn
2. Grand Island - Ed Verost
3. Grand Island - Dave Schnell
1. Grand Island - Hannah Schiffmacher
2. Grand Island - Tom Lockett
3. Grand Island - Grace Carey
1. LaSalle Prep - Sihyeon Kim
2. Williamsville North - Alex
3. LaSalle Prep - Violet Langman
1. Clarence - Stuart Johnson, Tyler Murphy
2. Clarence - Sophie Matuch, Heather Kubiak, Maddie Ehni
3. Cleveland Hill - Jacob Bell, Libby LaCourse, Adia Vazquez, Cameron Smith, Nathaniel Godzala
Grand Island High School celebrated another Tech Wars win Wednesday at Niagara County Community College.