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UMS Robotics STEAM Team

Submitted by Bill Helphingstine

Photo credits: Bill Helphingstine

Union Middle School has a Robotics team which is led by Mr. Bill Helphingstine. This year the Robotics team has 32 active team members that regularly attend meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school


The VEX “Worlds” STEAM Team Name is 287A (the official VEX Team number used for competitions) The “STEAM Team” is their nickname.

Gabby Pakovics, Sam Kudrna, Jack Mauro, and Ambur Patel

On January 28, 2022, the UMS STEAM Team, 287 A (Jack Mauro, Ambur Patel, Gabby Pakovics, and Sam Kudrna) participated in the VEX Robotics Qualifier at the Robot Revolution in Edison, New Jersey. Thirty-two New Jersey Middle School Teams participated and the UMS STEAM Team won the event by earning 23 points more than any other team. Our score was 113 points and the 2nd place team earned 90 points.

The VEX Robotics State Championship took place on March 12, 2022 at Briarcliff Middle School in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey. Twenty-four New Jersey Middle School Teams qualified. The UMS STEAM Team won the State Championship by improving their score from 113 points to 146 points. The second-place team earned 110 points.


Bill Helphingstine explained, “To improve their team score, the team worked together at least 2 hours every day from the middle of January to March 11. We met at 7 am every school day. They got together at each other’s houses during the weekend. In addition to mornings, we stayed working at school till 6:00 pm each weeknight two weeks before the competition and till 8 pm each weeknight during the last week before our competition.


During the NJ State Championship, the STEAM team participated in the “Pitching In” event. VEX IQ Challenge Pitching In is played on a 6’ x 8’ rectangular field. Two robots compete in the Teamwork Challenge as an alliance in 60-second long teamwork matches, working collaboratively to score points. Teams also competed in the Robot Skills Challenge where one robot takes the field to score as many points as possible. These matches consist of Driving Skills Matches, which were entirely driver-controlled, and Programming Skills Matches, which will be autonomous with limited human interaction.

The UMS STEAM team won with a margin of 33 points. We earned 146 and the closest, second place, was 113 points and the third-place winner had 92 points. They also won the Robot Skills and Driver Skills Competition and Team Skills Competition. Their current team ranking in the world: 116th out of 5327 worldwide teams.

The VEX IQ World Championship will take place from May 7th to the 11th in Dallas, Texas. Our hope is to finish within the top 50 teams in the world and maybe even win our division. Currently, the World’s top 5 teams are from Taiwan, Canada, and China.


Earlier this year, we competed in the “CoderZ League Coding Competition.” This competition started in the middle of September and finished in the middle of January 2022. Sixteen STEAM Team members competed virtually against over 800 other worldwide teams. Our team proudly finished within the “elite eight” bracket of the competition. The winning team was from Ghana, the second-place team was from Brazil, and the fifth-place team was from our very own Hasbrouck Heights.”


The team is currently sponsoring an “in school” competition that we call the “Gamer’s Cup”. Team members are modifying a game written in Scratch. Union’s students will have the chance to play the team’s modified games during lunch periods and to vote for the game that they like the best.


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