CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. -- New to Cambridge Central School this year, the CCS Robotics Team 5236 took home the Rookie Inspiration Award. CCS students placed in the top 15 teams for "offensive power rating" in the FIRST Robotics Competition regionals at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in March.

Thirty-eight teams of students and 38 robots competed in the regionals. Team 5236 was the first rookie team to pass inspection and placed second in in autonomous scoring, which sent them along to the semifinal matches of the competition.

"The actual competition was amazing and insane at the same time," said CCS sophomore and project manager, Matthew Hoffer. "Every single one of these teams was super supportive of us and helpful (at) every step. We worked hard to assist other teams as well."

The first day and a half of the competition consisted of qualification rounds. Then Team 5236 got picked to join two other teams in an alliance for quarterfinal and semifinal rounds. "We lost with them in the third match of the semifinals, but we got extremely far: especially for our first year. It was an amazing experience," Hoffer said.

The CCS robotics team consisted of just six students with the help of three adult mentors. They started building their 120-pound robot in the fall after immense planning. The team's head programmer and driver, sophomore Sully Gordon had no prior computer programing experience, and learned what he needed as he needed. Hoffer and sophomore Digby Baker-Porazinski worked on the design of the robot using SolidWorks, a three-dimensional Computer-Aided Design program, to test all robot parts to be sure they worked together.

"Before this year, I had no previous CAD experience. None of our team did," Hoffer said. "Digby and I learned all the skills necessary for the building and design I worked to teach our other members and some students that wanted to help out (but could not commit the time)."

Hoffer and sophomore Andy Romack got help with building the robot from Hoffer's father who is a mechanical engineer for Aztech Geothermal, Geoff, and from a RPI mechanical engineer from Global Composites, Steve Winkler.

Each year, FIRST hands teams pages of rules to comply with. "Not only do we have to make sure everything follows the rules, but (we had to) stay within a budget and (make sure) that the robot would be able to perform in a competition scenario.

CCS seniors Buster Baker-Porazinski and Shepard Gordon helped with programming and scouting. The students had the support of CCS High School Technology Instructor Mike White. Many area businesses provided services for machine building such as water jet cutting, machining and welding.

Some of the students are already working on another robotic assembly. The robotics team will hold school time events in May to interest more students, from freshmen to seniors. They are encouraging students to start teams at the elementary and middle school levels (FIRST Lego League and FIRST Tech Challenge).

Contact Tom Momberg at tmomberg@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomMomberg