MAPLEWOOD, NJ - On Sunday, Dec. 4, The First Tech Challenge of 2016-2017 was held in the Columbia High School (CHS) gymnasium, with the CHS cafeteria used as the “pit” area.

The event began with an opening ceremony which included remarks from Elizabeth Aaron, Principal of CHS, Allan Tumolillo, advisor to the Cougars Robotics Club, and Maplewood Mayor Vic De Luca. De Luca shared, "these robots are something special, a far cry from my first erector set 50+ years ago."

Aaron said, “I’m thrilled to host this event again with 36 Teams participating today." Aaron added, “I’m very excited to be partnering with the Achieve Foundation and corporate partners to allow for expanding the program for more students to participate, particularly those with special needs.”

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Tumolillo stated that this is the sixth year the tournament has been held at CHS, and that it has grown in size since the first two years, when events were held in the cafeteria. As the number of participating teams increased, the move to the gymnasium was necessary to have room for all 36 teams to participate.

According to Tumolillo, with the help of the parents committee it takes about four to five hours to set up, with work taking place on Saturday, and beginning again at 6 a.m. on Sunday. Tumolillo added that CHS is proud to host the Robo-CATastrophe event, as it is this division's largest robotics tournament in New Jersey.

Teams competed throughout the day, culminating in semi-finals and finals. CHS's sophomore team, Cougar Cubs # 7959, made it to the semi-finals, but did not survive to the finals.

The winning team was the Ninejas #9999 from West Milford.  Millburn High School’s Robotics team was on the winning alliance and qualified for the state finals.

The CHS Robotics team also collected toys at the event for the "Boxes of Fun program, which provides personalized boxes of gifts and activities to children undergoing bone marrow transplants at New York Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and the Hackensack Children’s Hospital.  Read more here.