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Family helps foster robotics program in Baton Rouge

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BATON ROUGE - The phrase, "black sheep," was probably a more accurate name for Woodlawn High School's robot than the "Panthrobotics" team intended.

"This year, our robot had a performance that was not so excellent, but it's okay, because we know exactly what happened and next year's going to be better," said Hugo Salom, Sr., a professional engineer and mentor for the group of Woodlawn students that had six weeks to build a robot from scratch to compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition.

The FIRST Bayou Regional was held in New Orleans in late March, and Woodlawn's robot, "Black Sheep," underperformed.

This year, the robots had to fire frisbees at targets and climb a pyramid structure.

That is, until a surprise invitation from FIRST officials got Woodlawn back in the world championship in Saint Louis, MO.

"From a technical standpoint, from an engineering standpoint, and as a mentor, and as a parent and as a friend, I'm ready to go and I'm sure the kids are too," said Salom, Sr.

Salom, Sr. has been mentoring robotics teams since 2004, and brought the program to Woodlawn in 2009.

His legacy continues with his son, Hugo Salom, Jr., who mentors Bayou Regional champion Parkview Baptist.

"It's one of those situations where you're so ignorant, you don't even know what you don't know," said Parkview coach Shawn Liner of starting his team with the help of Salom, Sr.  "It was really great to have a phone number to call and ask questions and be able to immediately go and know kind of where I needed to be. Where do I even buy a sprocket from?"

Now, both teams will meet in Saint Louis to compete for a world championship.  But all parties agree the teams have more of a friendship than a friendly rivalry.

"Personally, it makes me feel very, very good," Salom, Sr. said.  "Seeing how Hugo, as a mentor, succeeded in this competition makes me feel very proud."


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