Losing with Dignity

I was at the Greater Pittsburgh Regional for FIRST Robotics Competition this past week. I missed some school, missed out on a trip to the Creation Museum, and missed sleeping in my own bed. However, the actual event itself presented such a huge reward that all that “missing out on” was justified.

Our robot has been worked on tirelessly since the start of build season at the beginning of January. Most teams stop at “bag day”, when your robot goes into a bag. My team builds another identical robot to continue testing and preparing for competition. We added more features, practiced endlessly, and were confident going into Pittsburgh that we were one of the better teams.

The qualifying matches we had didn’t all run smoothly, but we managed to come in a final placement of fourteenth out of fifty-two. We were thrilled! Confident in our ability to be picked, we sat through the selection process for playoffs very calmly. Just kidding, we were totally stressing out.

One whole round of picking went by and we hadn’t been selected. Out of fifty-two teams, only twenty-four would be moving into the playoffs, and there were only eight picks left.

When it got down to three picks, we were terrified. There are so many numbers on a list, and you know you’ve done everything in your power to stick out. When the third-ranked alliance called our number, we screamed. We clapped, thundered, shouted, stomped, waved!

My job is to lead scouting. I’ve been met with surprising and disheartening opposition this year, but my scouters understood how important their job was, and we had helped our team to get to this point. We knew from our data that our alliance members were just what we needed to win this competition. They complimented us perfectly, and I anxiously watched the matches, searching for flaws in the other seven competing alliances.

We won our quarter-final, setting the regional’s best score. Then we won our semi-final, and my scouters warned me about a particularly vicious robot on the opposing alliance. The last hurdle we had.

We could beat them easily.

My team has never won a regional on its own merits. Last year, we won in Chesapeake with the help of our alliance. We’ve almost always made it into playoffs, but we had a clear opportunity to win a regional, our first regional of the year, and go to World’s in St. Louis again.

The first match went smoothly, except for an opposing robot losing connection in the middle of the match. I felt terrible for them; to have a “rookie” mistake in the middle of the finale is disheartening; and no one wants to win because their opponent wasn’t at their best.

The second match didn’t go smoothly. I watched as our score didn’t climb, and I thought to myself, “What are we doing wrong?” When I realized our mistakes, I bolted from the stands to the drive team. We only had one more shot to win this competition; we were supposed to win the second match. If we lost again, it was over.

I spit out my advice in a terrible hurry, out of breath, and my friend understood as he returned to the robot. My other friends and I stood by the sidelines, praying, as the final match went on. We knew the odds were against us now, because of two little mistakes and one very aggressive robot.

And then we lost.

The most disappointing feeling settled over us, as we’d had this regional in the bag, and little mistakes cost us everything. Some things we could have fixed, some things we couldn’t have. 

We congratulated the opposing alliance, the ones who had rammed our fellow robot without a penalty, without a care, who had damaged it. They ignored us over their cheers. They stepped on us, a foe efficiently eliminated through a lack of fair play and one key strategy move.

It was hard, to sit in the stands, knowing we technically won, but in reality, were in second place. To hear them cheering, to hear the taunting celebration of, “We are the champions, too bad for losers” music jamming in the background of our pain. It was especially hard for me; me, who had predicted what could lead to our downfall and had done everything in her power to help.

Yet we put the past behind us. We have a lovely silver medal with a pretty red ribbon attached to it; another color to add to the roster along our blue from last year. A trophy for winning the Quality Award, one of a handful of awards to be given out to excellent teams. And somehow, this silver medal is beautiful to me. We earned that medal; we weren’t dragged along. We pulled our weight, did everything in our power to assist our teammates, and we won, in our hearts.

Of course, our hearts won’t get us to St. Louis, but that’s what the Tennessee Regional is for in a few weeks.

I think we did a great job at losing with dignity. And hopefully, we’ll be able to win with dignity at our next competition.


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