TOM BEARDEN: In the end, their team won the most prestigious regional prize of all, the chairman's award, given to the team that has done the most to encourage other students to pursue science and technology. Team 159 had done that by helping other schools start robotics programs of their own. It meant they could go to the national competition a month later in Atlanta.
STUDENT: Welcome to the Georgia Dome.
TOM BEARDEN: The nationals bring 340 teams from all over the world together for two raucous, strenuous days of head-to-head competition. Each team has its own unique story to tell.
STUDENT: Does it have batteries?
TOM BEARDEN: Team 812 came from the Price School in San Diego. It's a charter school made up of inner-city minority students whose parents never attended college. The team won the chairman's award from the Southern California for helping tutor kids who otherwise might never get one-on-one attention in math and science.
Rob Mainieri is the team's coach.
ROB MAINIERI, Mentor, Team 812: These kids every year do somewhere around 1,500 to 2,000 hours of community outreach, whether it's tutoring at the Boys and Girls Clubs, or last year we had some students work at a home for battered women and their children, and just working on getting technology understood by other people.
TOM BEARDEN: He says the program has literally changed the lives of his kids, kids like Vu Hong, who has a scholarship to MIT next year.
VU HONG, High School Senior: It's shown me that I could have a lot of potential in college, and I would have never aimed as high as MIT before, but now potentially anything can happen.
TOM BEARDEN: Angelina Saldivar got a scholarship to Amherst College.
ANGELINA SALDIVAR, High School Senior: I really didn't think that I could do anything like this, engineering. I'm a Hispanic female. And doing engineering or even going to college was something that was completely out of the question for me. And really being through the program, it taught me to believe in being able to achieve anything.
TOM BEARDEN: Team 812 had very little money. Instead of staying in a hotel in Atlanta as most teams did, they crashed on the floor of a friend of their coach. But that didn't dampen their fun or their success.
Team 812 finished an impressive 18th out of 88 teams in their division, and Mainieri was named the top mentor in the country.
Team 159 also had quite a bit of success. Their robot performed well and, again, they made the semi-finals...
COMPETITION PARTICIPANT: All right, we're good. We're on.
TOM BEARDEN: ... until another different part failed in the heat of battle.
COMPETITION PARTICIPANT: One of our drive belts is dead. Get everything ready to change it out. Go, go, go.
TOM BEARDEN: They were hoping their partners would call a time out so they could fix it and continue playing.
COMPETITION OFFICIAL: We got to go right now. Don't tell me yes if you're not going to move. Are you going to move? You sure?
TOM BEARDEN: Ultimately, 159's two partners decided to get a replacement team.
COMPETITION OFFICIAL: I'm very sorry. We wanted you guys on the field, but we had to go to with the backup.
TOM BEARDEN: 159 was out...
NICK HOBBS: Well, guys, thanks for the frantic effort.
TOM BEARDEN: ... but Hobbs says he finished the season very proud of what they'd all accomplished.
NICK HOBBS: I think that's one of the reasons that robotics is different than sports. Like, at the end of a soccer game, if you lose, you never feel good. Like, it's never like, "Wow, I learned something useful today." It's always like, "Man, we lost."
But, like, at the end of the season, like, you think about it, and you look at the robot, and you realize that we spent over, like, 40 hours a week, each of us, working on it. And so the amount of time we spent competing, like, opposed to the amount of time we spent building is minuscule.
COMPETITION ANNOUNCER: Unbelievable!
TOM BEARDEN: There's one other way that FIRST is different from sports and it was on display in the final game of the 2006 competition.
COMPETITION ANNOUNCER: This 296 machine, its shooter was inoperable because they had lost a master link on a chain on the 296 machine. No one on this alliance had a master link to get that shooter working again. It was this alliance that had the master link, gave it to them, to get this working right here.
Three, two, one, go!
TOM BEARDEN: The final match proceeded.
COMPETITION ANNOUNCER: This is anybody's match!
TOM BEARDEN: And the team that got the help ended up beating the team that assisted them.
COMPETITION ANNOUNCER: We have a winner!
TOM BEARDEN: It was the perfect example of what Dean Kamen wants the competition to be. At first, it's not about who wins; it's how you play the game.