As Bob Gammon always says: “Effort equals results.”

The 2022-23 school year marked the single greatest in the history of Southold Robotics Team RICE 870 — and any Long Island robotics team for that matter. Last April, Team RICE, which stands for respect, integrity, compassion and equity and consists of Southold and Greenport students, rode a bus down to Houston, Texas, to compete against more than 600 teams from over 30 countries in the FIRST Robotics Championship. Alongside their alliance members, or teams with which they are partnered during matches, Southold took second place. Second place in the entire world.

The team’s success, which was recognized with proclamations not only from Southold Town, and Suffolk County, but from the New York State Assembly, could not have happened without its co-advisors, Mr. Gammon and Christine Schade. This past year, Mr. Gammon’s dedication as head of the build team — the group of team members who design, construct and operate a new robot for each year’s FIRST Robotics competition match — was particularly laudable. For the first time, his build team created two robots — one for competition, which they had to ship to Houston roughly two weeks in advance — and one to use for practice during that waiting period. 

“We learned from [the 2021-22 season] that we can’t just go in there cold when we go down to Houston,” said Declan Crowley, a 2023 Greenport High School graduate who served as the team’s driver last year and now studies finance at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. “We have to have some practice prior to it. This year, we built a second robot, so obviously, that takes more time away from students, we have to put in a little extra work, and same with the mentors, but that definitely helped … Mr. Gammon being the head of [the build team] let us know this was possible and it’s in our best interest.”

Clearly, “effort equals results.”

For leading Southold and Greenport high school students on their journey from building and testing their robots to representing their hometowns and hard work on the world stage, Mr. Gammon is The Suffolk Times’ 2023 Sports Person of the Year.

Some readers might ask themselves, “Is robotics really a sport?” Just ask the students who put in countless hours working as a team to prepare for each match, their peers who scout the strategies and performances of other teams, their coaches who mentally and logistically ready the team, or the spectators, approximately 50,000 of whom screamed in the bleachers at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center during the FIRST Championship.

Southold’s robotics team has come a long way since Mr. Gammon and Ms. Schade took over nearly a decade ago, when their own children were involved in the program. Not only did the team’s enrollment increase, due in part to welcoming students from Greenport, but it’s grown into a multi-departmental operation, with some students on Mr. Gammon’s build team and others focusing on financial and media matters and with Ms. Schade. For this growth, The Suffolk Times named Ms. Schade, who is also a longtime math teacher at Southold, its Educator of the Year in 2019.

Team RICE’s build season begins just after students’ winter break and runs through the spring. During this time, students, volunteer mentors, who are typically parents of students on the team, and the team’s co-advisors all log grueling hours stretching well into the evening on school nights. 

“I see [Mr. Gammon] every night on my way to board meetings and then on my way back, they’re there late nights,” said Dr. Anthony Mauro, superintendent of the Southold Union Free School District. “Believe it or not, we don’t pay advisors a lot of money, so it’s not for the money. He’s as dedicated a person as you’re going to get, and his dedication and commitment show because our kids in kind return what they see.”

As a coach, Mr. Gammon strives for fairness and transparency. Each season, he welcomes all comers to try out for any one of five coveted spots on Team RICE’s drive team, which operates the robot during competitions. He makes clear what he expects from those seeking these key positions.

“The first thing he’s going to look for is skill, the next is commitment,” said Judi Fouchet, one of Team RICE’s volunteer mentors. “He understands that this one’s got basketball, this one’s got lacrosse, this one’s got drama club, but he’s also honest that if you want one of those [drive team] positions, there comes a time where you’re gonna have to make a choice, and he’s managed the expectations of the students well.”

“Bob wants every kid to get something out of the program … whether it’s designing on a [computer-aided drafting] program, or it’s actually the hands-on building of the robot, the strategy and design of the game,” Ms. Fouchet added. “He’s all about helping kids find a niche and be part of something. That’s paramount to him. It’s not about a robot, it’s not about competition, it’s about kids.”

Be it through robotics, Woodside Orchards, the apple farm his father sprouted in Jamesport, which he and his brother Scott took over and expanded to a second location in Aquebogue, or just from around town, anyone who knows Mr. Gammon would likely describe him as a good neighbor, always willing to lend a helping hand. His good nature, coupled with his “effort equals results” attitude, has left an impact on the students he’s helped throughout the years.

“It’s like a family the way he treats us,” Mr. Crowley said. “His personality, I know if I ever called him cause I need help changing a tire, I know he would be willing to take the time to help me … He’s very encouraging and teaches us a lot of life lessons in the build room. He’s one of the greatest helping hands I’ve ever had.”

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