Shaheen helps send PMHS robotics team off to St. Louis

ALTON — U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen on Tuesday joined the entire student body of Prospect Mountain Road High School for the send-off of the school's first robotics team to qualify for FIRST — the world robotics championships in St. Louis.

For 18 years the robotics team has been working on some form of Bob 319 — the nickname for the Prospect Mountain robot. "319" is the number assigned to the school's entry.

Although the school has won a number of regional contests, this is first time the school will go to the championship and compete against 399 of the best robotics teams in the country.

"In New Hampshire alone, we need 43,000 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) jobs for the jobs we're going to create," said Shaheen addressing the student body.

"We need them in this county if we're going to compete internationally and I hope Big Bad Bob does well," she said to cheers from the audience.

Joining Shaheen was N.H. Republican gubernatorial candidate Walt Havenstein — a former CEO of defense contractor BAE Systems, one of the sponsors of the Prospect Mountain Robotics Team.

"I've watched 319 go from being a regional competitor to a world competitor," said Havenstein who lives in Alton.

In his remarks, he reminded the group of students who are going to St. Louis to remember the 17 teams of students who preceded them and their contributions to the robotics program.

Prospect Mountain High School showed spirit and style at yesterday's second period pep rally and send-off. The high school band played, the choir sang the Star Spangled Banner, and many of the students and parents who were there sported orange T-shirts with BOB emblazoned across their chest.

According to Principal J. Fitzpatrick, the the team did very well in at a competition in Lewiston, Maine and took Bob 319 to Boston where they finished "on the bubble", or on the waiting list.

He said four teams were unable to come up with the $5,000 entry fee so Prospect Mountain was contacted and the students went on a "blitzkrieg" of fund-raising coming up with the entry fee in just three days and raising just shy of $14,000 in a week to pay for the transportation and lodging in St. Louis.

Fitzpatrick said the Barnstead School Board alone contributed $5,600.

"I can't tell you if it was from their own pockets or what but all I can say is thank you very much," Fitzgerald.

Fitzpatrick also said that the high school's participation in the St. Louis FIRST competition adds a new dimension to this year's school accomplishments. He noted the schools athletic teams have done very well but succeeding in a non-athletic competition has brought the school together in an even more profound sense.

"There are some very diverse students on the robotics teams," Fitzpatrick said, adding the team includes athletes, musicians, honors math students, welders, computer programer and woodworkers.

Fitzpatrick said once the team returns, they are scheduled to bring BOB to the elementary school for a demonstration in the hopes that more younger students participate in FIRST Lego which is the elementary version of the middle and high school robotics teams.

CUTLINE: U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (brown suit) joins the Prospect Mountain High School Robotics Team at a pep rally at the school on Tuesday morning. Later in the day, team members left for their FIRST Robotics World Championship in St. Louis. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Gail Ober)