Millennium Falcons kick off season with regional win

The TPHS robotics team, widely known as the Millennium Falcons, won the Hueneme Port Regional competition in the 2024 First Robotics Competition, bringing home two blue banners and qualifying for the World Championships.

This year, three out of four SDUHSD robotics teams advanced to the finals of the Hueneme Port Regional competition, indicating that the SDUHSD area is becoming a “powerhouse at robotics competitions,” according to Ethan Lemke (12), the head of design for the Millennium Falcons.

The event was the team’s first regional competition of the season. They faced “very qualified teams,’ including schools that were former world champions, according to Eric Grun (12), the team’s president. After the initial qualification matches, the Millennium Falcons and the Lincoln High School Steel Stingers were chosen by a team from the Netherlands to form an alliance.

“That led us into a very good, strong alliance … we complimented each other very well,” Grun said.

The alliance TPHS joined advanced to the elimination matches, where it remained undefeated and emerged as the regional winner.

“We’ve been in the workshop for so long, and our goal this year has been to win,” Head of Programming Edison Shen (12) said. “Being able to do that after so much hard work is just really satisfying.”

Lemke agreed.

“All our hard work paid off,” Lemke said. “I’m really proud of all the work we did at the competition and in the room, all the countless hours we spent on the robot.”

At the competition, the Millennium Falcons overcame challenges, including poor lighting that obstructed the robot’s ability to aim autonomously and last- minute repairs before the final round.

“We always have to adapt to the situations,” Grun said.

At the Hueneme Port Regional, TPHS was not the only standout from SDUHSD. San Dieguito Academy’s Team Paradox and Canyon Crest Academy’s Aluminum Narwhals competed against the Millennium Falcon’s alliance in the finals, but top honors went to the TPHS alliance.

“We always want to help each other out,” Shen said. “It’s just a really great culture where even though there’s a lot of competition, you always want to make sure the other team is doing good as well.”

Many team members agreed that the district-wide success is a sign of a strong SDUHSD education program, particularly in STEM.

“Seeing so many teams from our district shows the quality of the teaching we’re getting and how it really translates to something meaningful,” Grun said.

The Millennium Falcons’ mentor Klint Kirkconnell won the Woodie Flowers Best Mentor Award at Port Hueneme, giving the team their second blue banner. Kirkconnel has been with the Millennium Falcons since their inaugural season in 2010.

Grun described Kirkconnell as the “backbone of the team.”

“All of those little tips that [Kirkconnell] has and all the experience heisabletogivetousisareallybig part of why we won,” Lemke said.

For Kirkconnel, he mostly lets his students run the show, only giving direction as necessary.

“I try to keep the students as safe as possible and steer their ideas into areas that are logical, but it’s a student-run organization and they decide how to do it,” Kirkconnel said.

Photos by Anna Opalsky/Falconer

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