Shelton High Gaelhawks soar to new heights

Shelton High’s Gaelhawks robotics team, a staple at the World Championships, soared to new heights this past season.
The squad, comprised of some 40 students, were part of an alliance team that won its division then entered the Einstein competition, ultimately placing third overall in the world competition — the highest such finish for any Shelton High robotics team in the 21 years the "program has been in existence.
“It was just an amazing feeling,” said senior captain Sydney Youd about her team’s accomplishments at the championships held in Detroit in late April. “This is so rewarding. It is definitely satisfying to go out on a good note.”

Youd, who joined the robotics team as a junior, said this was perhaps the most challenging competition, considering that in the initial qualifying round, the Gaelhawks were in the Curie Division — one which Youd, her teammates and even adviser, SHS Athletic Director John Niski, agreed was the most difficult competition-wise in recent memory.
“This is ultimately is the best, final result,” said Niski. “Other years we’ve been close. Our team is also very, very competitive compared to other teams in here in New England. We do well at the district and New England level, but the last couple years, we have advanced to the world championship level.”
“We have a great team, a great group of mentors, an amazing robot that did everything we wanted it to do,” said Youd. “We’re just so excited as a team. The team had been to Worlds the past six years, so we did have the pressure of that streak to uphold.”
Shelton High was among more than 400 teams — from as far away as Canada, Israel and India to as close as New Jersey and some from right in Connecticut — with some 40,000 people in attendance. But Niski said his Gaelhawks never flinched at the magnitude of the scene.
“Our division was by far the most competitive … there were so many good teams,” said Niski. “We had good success in qualifying rounds and ended up being drafted by the No. 4 alliance to participate in a division tournament. Our alliance won our division tournament, something we had never done here.”

Niski said that the Gaelhawks — with its No. 4 Alliance team partners from Southington, Michigan and New Hampshire — then battled in the Einstein round-robin tournament, according to Nicki, finishing third by percentage points, and ultimately earning Shelton High robotics its best-ever finish at Worlds.
“This season was exciting,” said senior captain Deanna Fava, who joined the squad a junior but has developed such a love over the past year she will be continuing her studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute next school year.
Fava not only credited the team for its incredible level of intelligence but also the mentors when pinpointing what set this year’s robotics team apart from past incarnations.
“We worked so hard, countless hours, every single day, after school, late nights, all day on weekends. We would work until we were so exhausted that we never wanted to come back, but we always came back. In the end, it is just so much fun to do all of this with my friends.”
Fava said she swells with pride telling others she was a part of this successful run.
“It’s great knowing I can point at that robot and say I did that. I can point exactly at what I helped build to make it work. It is a really good feeling,” added Fava.
Niski credited the hard work each student put into each aspect of the team’s success — from construction of the robot to its programming, public relations to the squad’s business plan. But Niski added that the 10 mentors — from such companies as Sikorsky and United Technologies — formed a strong bond with the students as the season progressed.
“The energy was incredible,” said junior Siddharth Jain. “We really became a family.
Jain said he and his teammates, after learning of the robotics challenge in January, worked every day for some five months. Jain said he worked some 600 to 700 hours over that time period — all for the glory of a school-best finish in the World Championships.
“To play with the top teams from around the world, creating a name for ourselves in the future, is a great feeling,” said Jain.
The team has six seniors (Fava, Youd, Chris Frost, Michael Kichar, Gavin Newell and Brian Sanfilippo), 10 juniors (Jain, Jake Daxner, Kyle Gydus, Joseph LaRue, Emanuel Louime, Christopher MacDonald, David Niski, Christian Olavarria, Jessica Wurms and Ananya Yadav), eight sophomores (Jule Cayer, Ashley Kichar, Evan Kryger, Caroline McCormick, Justin Mendez, David Sekelsky, Joshua Zamani and Zachary Wirth), and six freshmen (Diya Patel, Austin D’Aulizio, Josh Mallette, Bianca Youd, Connor Dapp and Ria Dalvi).
When describing the robotics team experience, Niski said the program provides students “an incredible opportunity to explore different areas of science and technology while learning to work with one another students and adults, present thoughts and ideas in a cohesive way, and learn to work under deadlines.”
“The atmosphere is fun,” said Dalvi. “This is the hardest fun you will ever have.”