Torrey Pines Robotic Club heading for regional competition


By Marlena Chavira-Medford

Staff Writer

The Torrey Pines High School Robotics Club is barely one year old, but already its heading for regional competitions and has its sights set on a rookie award.

The group will be participating in a competition sponsored by For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), a nonprofit that works to engage young people in engineering, science and technology.

Next month these Torrey Pines students will head to the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) to face 65 other teams, most of which are not first-timers. The competition will be tough, no doubt, but the team is optimistic. After all, getting to this point is quite a feat in itself. The students have done plenty of legwork to make this happen, from writing grants over pizza to launching a grassroots effort promoting the club on Facebook.

After raising $12,400 and recruiting about 20 members, the team hit the ground running. With help from a handful of mentors, the team spent six weeks building a robot, working daily three-hour shifts at one point in the building process.

“We’re a first year team, so there was a lot of trial and error. Some of us are good at writing code, some of us are better at cutting material for construction — we each bring something different to the table, so this truly was a team effort,” said senior Sam Hiraoka, a co-founder of the team.

The team has also done elementary school outreach at Del Mar Hills and Torrey Hills.

“Nationally, science is a dying subject, but science is the future, which is why it’s so important we start with outreach to kids,” Hiraoka said. “Torrey Pines is a sports powerhouse, but it’s important for us to be equally advanced in our science programs. My hope is that by engaging kids in this community, we’re ensuring the future of the robotics team at Torrey Pines.”

And future robotics teams at Torrey Pines will continue to have mentors, thanks to volunteers like Carmel Valley resident Klint Kirkconnell, who has been helping the team and plans to continue next year.

Though he and a few other volunteers have rolled up their sleeves and pitched in, he gives plenty of credit to the students.

“We’ve been here working with them, but they’ve been the ones coming up with all the ideas,” said Kirkconnell, who had two daughters graduate from Torrey Pines High School and coached Science Olympiad for a number of years. “I’ve been very impressed with what these students have done. The guys who have been here working are pretty amazing, and I believe they’ll all do well.”

In addition to thanking their mentors, the teammates thanked the Torrey Pines staff and faculty for their continued support, as well as their team sponsors, which include: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), Nordson Asymtek, and Qualcomm.

The FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) will be at the San Diego Sports Arena March 10-12, and as the competition nears, the teammates say they have their eye on the prize: the rookie choice award, which would earn them a spot at finals.

“I’m hoping for a win,” said senior Eric Chen, a co-founder of the group. “When I say win, I don’t mean finish at the top. I mean form new bonds with other teammates, connect with new teams, and have an overall good experience. That’s what winning is to me.”

The teammates also said they’d appreciate a community turnout to cheer them on during the competition, and, because they’re running such a barebones operation, they would certainly appreciate help in any form, be that a donation of time, knowledge or support.

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  1. If you would like to help the team in any way, email


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