In 1991, the organization FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, was founded. In 1996, there were only ninety-four teams competing in the FIRST Robotics Competition. One of those teams was Team 172, the second team from the state of Maine. FIRST Team 172, named “Northern Force”, was the brainchild of a Gorham High School Technology Education teacher, Roger Lord, who wanted to expand options for science-based extracurricular activities at his school. Working together with teachers and students from Gorham and the nearby town of Old Orchard Beach, Team 172 was born.
The team was organized with the help of its first sponsors: Unum Provident, Corning Costar, and Nichols Portland. Originally, it was comprised of only twenty students, and challenges arose due to tasks being split up between work crews at the two different high schools. However, the team successfully built its robot and attended a regional competition.
As the years went by, Team 172 stayed a close-knit team, despite the different schools that constituted it. In fact, by the year 2002, several other schools had come and gone, making Northern Force somewhat of a joint effort between many schools in and around the suburbs of Portland, Maine’s largest city. As the team’s founder neared retirement, another Technology Education teacher, John Kraljic from Falmouth High School, stepped in as the team’s head coach. Falmouth High School had just joined the team that year. With the addition of Falmouth, the team not only grew but also restructured itself. The Falmouth and Gorham High Schools became the twin cores of the team, with most team membership from then on drawn from them.
The addition of Falmouth also began the team’s process of defining its unique spirit. Team members quickly noticed that the first three letters of the two schools names- “Fal” for Falmouth and “Gor” for Gorham- could spell “Falgor”, a word which soon served as a name for the team’s new mascot, the viking Falgor. This Norseman wears curling ram’s horns on his helmet, a nod to the Gorham Public Schools mascot, a ram. In the team logo, he stands with his large ship’s wheel, referring to the Falmouth Yachtsmen. But Falgor spirit didn’t stop there. During the 2006/2007 season, Team 172, fearing that its previous team color of black made it unnoticeable in the stands of competitions, chose hot pink as its new team color. Pink, probably more so than anything else, has come to define Northern Force as an entity in the world of robotics competition.
Since then, several novel spirit concepts have been used year after year in competitions. One tradition is that many team members paint their nails pink during regional competitions. “We have pink nails / Even the males!” as a line from one team chant goes. In New England, at least, Team 172 pioneered the use of large- and in our case, pink- letter placards that could be held up to spell out phrases, and switched around to spell others. Among the most notable of these phrases are “Think Pink”, “Go Maine”, and “Kamen Hop”, which resulted in FIRST founder Dean Kamen hopping about on the spot. During the 2008/2009 season, the color pink was unfortunately being used on vision targets around the playing field. Thus, the Northern Force was barred from wearing the color pink during that season’s events. Team 172 instead reluctantly wore white shirts, but retained its pink spirit by viewing those white shirts through pink-tinted glasses!
Along with being one of the most noticeable teams in New England during competitions, Northern Force has seen its share of success throughout its history. In 2007-2009 Team 172 the Regional Chrysler Team Spirit Award, an honor given to celebrate “extraordinary enthusiasm and spirit through exceptional partnership and teamwork.” Also, Team 172’s robot has scored many victories, and has been a member of winning alliances in three post-season events since 2007. In 2013, we won the Engineering Inspiration Award and were finalists at the Granite State Regional and won the Innovation in Control Award at the Pine Tree Regional. The Engineering Inspiration Award qualified us for our first-ever trip to the World Championship in St. Louis, MO, where we enjoyed a successful run. In 2015, we won the District Engineering Inspiration and we also went to the World Championship in St. Louis, MO, for the second time!
Currently, the team’s major sponsors are the corporations IDEXX Laboratories, Lanco Integrated, Adobe, Texas Instruments, Procter & Gamble, and RIM. FIRST Team 172 has built a long-lasting relationship with IDEXX, a company which has supported the team almost since its founding. Lanco, an employee-owned assembly system company based in Portland, has been generous enough to donate use of large amounts of their assembly floor space and machines to the team during build season. Many IDEXX and Lanco employees currently serve as team mentors and coaches, and Lanco employees are happy to share their technical knowledge when not working. Mentor and financial support also come from nearby National Semiconductor, Paradigm, and DeLorme Publishing.
When not competing or building robots, FIRST Team 172 can be found participating in a number of community outreach programs. Team members regularly attend engineering expositions, hold community demonstrations, organize open houses, and, of course, fundraise like mad. FIRST Team 172 also works collaboratively with other Maine FIRST teams, acting as a resource for rookie teams, sharing financing ideas and practice time with others in the region- and even, in dire situations, robot parts!
Along with working with the community, high school students from Falmouth and Gorham have created or supported FIRST Lego League programs for science-minded students in their respective middle schools. The Falmouth First Lego League team was created in 2009, and has participated in regional events with much recognition.
Since its founding in 1996, and even more so now, FIRST Team 172 has been a spirited, active, and devoted part of FIRST and the FIRST Robotics Competition. It is a well known, and hard-to-miss, team, famous in the region for its energy and determination. Northern Force, and its mascot Falgor, will be putting its trademark splash of pink spirit in the hearts, minds, and stadiums of FIRST for many years.