What started as just one small group of students has grown into multiple teams, award-winning projects and national and international recognition.

But even with all those achievements and being named the 2019 Shenango Valley Champion Organization at the Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner, for David Tomko and his coaching staff, including Rick and Jennifer Barborak, the biggest lessons and the proudest moments come when success is not such a clear path for the Sharon Robotics teams.

Failure, he said, that is when the learning begins.

“Failure makes us think differently,” he said. “Our robots fail, a lot.”

Tomko said that the teams don’t just create technological solutions to problems, they also develop a set of core values that guide their work.

Those values are critical in competitions — and teach lessons that go beyond robots and equations.

Discovery, perseverance, impact, inspiration, acceptance and gracious professionalism — all of those are byproducts of the other victories that the team has logged — evidence that the students understand that what they gain from the robotics program is more than an entry for their college application.

“The lessons that the core values teach mean more than the trophies,” Tomko said. “What we discover is more important than what we win.”

And that is what makes the work that the coaches, mentors, parents and students do so impactful, he said.

“I can share a thousand stories of success,” he said. “And none of them involve a trophy.”

Building a team is like building a robot, Tomko said. The bricks that form the foundation that has helped create the success of the Sharon Robotics teams begin with the students.

“The students on the teams really drive us,” he said. “The piece of the foundation that really matters is the students.”

He also mentioned the many organizations, state and local leaders as well as businesses that have supported the teams and the efforts to build the program.

“We are like Legos,” he said. “We build upon each other. Thank you for being a brick in our foundation.”

Also part of the presentation of the award was Sharon High School senior and Robotics Team leader Justin Stanek, who talked about the impact the program has had on his life, and his mother, Jill, who talked about why the experiences and opportunities the program has offered have been so impactful for her children and the other students on the team.

In the audience were many of the students who participate on the robotics teams and their coaches and parents — special guests of the chamber.

Justin said the work required to be part of a team has been challenging, but well-worth the time and effort.

“It is just honestly amazing,” he said.

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