Martin County student robotics team kick off Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

MARTIN COUNTY — For decades, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City has been noted as the unofficial kickoff to the holiday season. And now, thanks to their incredibly hard work, numerous local teens not only will get to march in the big parade, they'll be kicking it off.

They're all award-winning members of the S.P.A.M. (Student Programmers, Animators and Machinists) Robotics Team of Martin County, and will represent the county in the parade, along with other winners of the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Championship from Texas, California, Arkansas and New Jersey.

Martin County team members are all students at Jensen Beach High School, Martin County High School, South Fork High School and Clark Advanced Learning Center.

PHOTOS: 2013 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Frances Powlak, 17, is a senior at Jensen Beach High School. She and her sister, junior Elizabeth Powlak, 16, will be traveling to Manhattan for the first time in their lives. Frances says she's thrilled by the prospect of marching with the robot in front of millions of people — both along the parade route and on NBC.

"It's incredibly exciting," Frances said. "From what I've been told, we're leading the parade and cutting the ribbon to start the parade. So we've been working hard the last few weeks to make some modifications to the robot to work to adjust to the parade route.

"We're marching 2 miles over four hours, so we have to make sure the battery lasts longer and is capable to throwing confetti."

Elizabeth, meanwhile, says it's been overwhelming preparing to march in the parade, but it'll be all worth it.

"It's definitely a lot to take on in a short period of time," Elizabeth said. "But it will be very exciting to show the people what FIRST is all about — not that many people know what we do. They'll get a better sense now."

The girls and their teammates won't just be marching in the parade, however.

"We're planning on visiting the Empire State Building and walking around Times Square," Elizabeth said. "We're also going to have a Thanksgiving dinner with all the other FIRST teams so that will be nice, too."

How did they get here?

In 2012, the team took part in the World Championship FIRST competition in St. Louis with their robot "Krumm." It took more than 60 kids to build a robot capable of shooting — and making — baskets in basketball and balancing itself on a seesaw.

"Krumm" was able to do both quite well, SPAM team leader and mentor Rich Brooks said.

"The robot was extremely accurate with the baskets and was able to balance itself well," Brooks said.

Brooks and the S.P.A.M. team were invited by Macy's to march because of a partnership FIRST has with the retail giant.

All those who won awards in 2012 and 2013 were invited — and all expenses have been paid for by Southwest Airlines, which is flying all the teams to New York for free — and by FedEx, which is flying all the robots to New York for free.

FIRST is also taking care of hotels and accommodations for all the kids.

Tune in at 9 a.m. Thursday on NewsChannel 5 to watch the parade.

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