Fourth time is the charm for Highlands Ranch High School CyberPatriot team
Team wins state title, headed to national championships
HIGHLANDS RANCH – Highlands Ranch High School (HRHS) is one of only a dozen schools across the United States and Canada that will be competing in the 2015 CyberPatriot National Finals Competition.
CyberPatriot was created by the Air Force Association seven years ago, as an educational program to inspire high school students toward careers in cyber security or other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines critical to our nation's future.
After three years of placing in the top 20, but falling short of the finals, the HRHS CyberPatriot team learned this weekend that they had made it to the national competition. The team will be heading to Washington, D.C. in March to compete for the title.
“My phone was blowing up on Saturday, when the CyberPatriot finalists were announced on Facebook,” said team coach Nicky DeBolt. “My entire team was excited.”
The students were feeling confident after competing in the Regional round, held the weekend of January 16-18, but had to wait for more than a week for the final results. The hope was that it wouldn’t be a repeat of last year’s heartbreaking loss to Rangeview High School in Aurora.
“It was very annoying, because last year we were about one point away from getting the trip,” said Highlands Ranch High School senior and team captain Tyler Northrip.
With the team primarily composed of seniors, Northrip knew this might be HRHS’ last chance to make nationals for a while.
“Early in the competition it was pretty stressful, because we’ve been doing this for four years. Next year, the team will mostly be freshman and sophomores, and they will have to start over from scratch,” Northrip said. “This is our last chance for us to compete in this and actually qualify. It is pretty nerve-racking.”
Learning that they have made it into the national competition is both a relief and the realization that there is more work ahead.
“I told them, ‘this is not going to be a victory lap for us, guys. We are going to go try to win this,’” DeBolt said.
Unlike the previous competitions, the HRHS students will be unable to communicate in any way with their coach or mentors during the Finals.
While the exact exercise hasn’t been defined for the students, generally they are given a computer with an image. They are told what types of programs they have been allotted and which users are authorized. It is then their job to configure and defend the system to withstand an attack from an outside group.
While this may sound a lot like the plot to a current Hollywood movie, Northrip says it isn’t quite as exciting when you see it in person.
“It is always hilarious. A lot of teachers and adults, when they approach me about it, there is almost a sense of awe,” Northrip said. “They are excited that we are hacking for the Air Force. It is not really that great.”
Still, the competition has very real implications for Northrip and his team. The competition acts as a farm league for the Air Force, colleges and corporations.
“Every year they get the cream of the crop of kids at Nationals. And every single year they advertise who gets jobs and who gets scholarships,” said DeBolt. “They get their hand pick of who they want to hire or recruit. Recently one of the top Linux kids was picked to work for the Air Force as he gets his degree. Right out of high school he is doing network and computer security for the Air Force. That is cool.”
Northrip hopes the competition will help open the door for him to go to college.
“For me personally, it is a pretty huge deal. If I don’t do this, there is a pretty good chance I won’t be able to afford college,” Northrip said.
Northrip hopes to attend the University of Texas at San Antonio to study Computer Science, with an emphasis in security. One day he would like to be a ‘grey hat’ security expert, hired to hack into corporate computer systems to provide them feedback on how to strengthen their systems.
2014-2015 Highlands Ranch High School Cyber Patriot Team
Tyler Northrip- Team captain- Specialty- Ubuntu | Windows
Jeremy Dugan- Specialty- Cisco | Windows
Kelly Gold- Specialty- Windows
Trevor Butcher- Specialty- Windows
Sean Bonham- Specialty- Cisco | Ubuntu
Stevan Gates- Specialty - Windows
James Mills- Former DCSD Server Manager
Richard Uhrie- HRHS Alumni - Colorado School of Mines student
Stephen Dugan- Cisco Trainer