It is undeniable that this 2020–2021 FIRST the season has been different than any of us expected. Personal protective equipment, recruiting for the future, code, CAD, social distance, “have my microphone on”, online meeting agendas and all of a thousand other things were mixed together. However, FIRST has always taught us that the ability to adapt to changing circumstances is a life skill, and was tested quite extensively this season.

FIRST Headquarters found a way for teams to compete and work together, looking for ways for online meetings to be helpful in collaborating and solving problems. They also kept the Dean’s List and the Woodie Flowers Award unchanged. And as this strange season comes to an end, we all realize that some things have remained the same, and one of them has been the impact that mentors and coaches have had on your teams. And many teams learn to cope with new skills that will continue to be used as we return to our normal routine.

Because the Woodie Flowers Award winners have worked through your Woodie Flowers Nominee brochure, we are all further humbled by the effort, compassion, and strength your mentors have shown with their students. In many cases, their work had increased in order to keep the teams meeting and productive. Selecting Woodie Flowers finalists from among the essays represented by the students has been a challenge. Without interfering with the robot in design and construction, it seems that many teams put extra effort into their Woodie Flowers candidates, which made the selection process much more relevant and difficult.

Some teams chose not to leave the prize. Sometimes you don’t, because no one could fit it into their schedule, sometimes you feel like there are too many strong Teams and mentors you think overshadow the efforts of your mentors. Recognizing your mentor is the real point of a candidate when you have time to say in words what your team’s mentors have done to you. I have never met a named mentor who was not proud to have been sent for an award with the name Woodie Flowers.

As we all start next year’s season, start noting what sacrifices, what extra things your mentor will do. As we always learn from the current season to do better next year to do it for the benefit of your mentors. Start working on the essay at the beginning of the school year, keep the drafts, involve more students in the appointment. So make the selection team work harder next year by adding candidates, celebrating what your tireless mentors have done to your team and FIRST.

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