St. Mary Academy Duo Places Third at Mid-Atlantic Coding Competition

By David Biggy | Jan 15, 2020
Courtesy of: St. Mary Academy St. Mary Academy’sNick Carerra and Sebastian Sares met with teacher Dennis Quinn after the seventh-graders placed third in the Mid-Atlantic Region Cyber Robotics Competition.

Stafford Township, NJ — Nick Carerra and Sebastian Sares know a thing or two about robotics, specifically coding them so they navigate through an obstacle course. In December, the seventh-graders from St. Mary Academy in Manahawkin proved their skills at the Mid-Atlantic Region Cyber Robotics Coding Competition.

Not only did Carerra and Sares reach the finals of the day-long competition at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, they placed third among 42 student tandems from New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware.

“We did OK,” said Sebastian, the one largely responsible for devising solid plans for navigating angles to get through the course’s “batteries” to score points. “The time limits were our biggest issue. They gave enough time to complete each mission, but you had to carefully come up with a strategy and spread out your time with each one so you’d get them done.”

“We could have done better,” said Nick, the better of the two with missions involving colored sensors. “We have to work on how we use our time. We finished a bunch of missions too late, so we didn’t score as many points as we could have.”

Still, the pair of Knights – who named themselves the “Dub Catchers,” as in a duo who catches wins – accumulated 1,575 points to finish higher than 39 teams of students in sixth through eighth grades, much to the delight of SMA computer technology teacher Dennis Quinn.

“I think they did awesome,” he said. “These guys were cool under pressure and didn’t get too stressed out by the competition. Teamwork is key in this kind of environment, and Nick and Sebastian showed that they are an example of two guys who worked well together to find effective ways to get the missions done.”

Each phase of the competition was marked by various “missions” – the more difficult ones, of course, garnering higher points. The focus was to navigate a robot, through proper and effective coding mechanics, around various barriers and through “battery” terminals to score points, Nick said. Some missions were given an hour time limit to complete, while others were given a much shorter period.

“We started with the 150-point missions, and if we didn’t figure them out within seven minutes we moved on to the 100-point missions,” Sebastian said. “The first phase had 15 missions. It was a tough competition.”

Getting to the Mid-Atlantic competition itself was a chore. Quinn staged six weeks of “bootcamps” through which Nick and Sebastian emerged as the top two coders, and they finished in those positions during an internal competition of some 40 students. The Mid-Atlantic CoderZ competition initially started as one with some 1,100 students and was whittled down to 42 for the finals at NJIT.

“We didn’t hand-pick these guys,” Quinn said. “They were our two best coders from our school based on what we had done here, so they were paired together as a team for the Mid-Atlantic competition. These guys are the example of the type of success we can have at that level. They were the first in the school’s history to finish in the top three, so it should encourage other students to get involved.”

St. Mary also had another duo competing at NJIT – sisters Nicole and Adrianna Schirripa, who placed 17th overall.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Nick, the student council vice president and one of SMA’s basketball players. “We’re going to get better and be back next year.”

— David Biggy

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