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By Kathleen Mest

Photos by Monique Kuhlman

The trophy shelf is filling up at Sato Academy of Math & Science!

Sato Drone Soccer Team (SDST) has scored big at each of the competitions they have participated in since the team formed in 2022. 

Albert Gallo, Sato engineering teacher and SDST coach, was first introduced to drone soccer when reading Aviation Week magazine then following a suggested video link. He remembers, “It was the coolest thing to watch and I wanted to bring it to Sato. I sent it to Principal Coleman and she replied, ‘Yes! Let’s do it!’"

Mr. Gallo applied for a grant made available through LBUSD… and now they’re flying! 


What is Drone Soccer?

Drone soccer is an esport that is played in a netted arena using quadcopter drones with protective exoskeletons battling to score. Two five-player teams (1 Striker, 3 Defenders, 1 Goalie) face-off as each team blocks the opposing team’s Striker to prevent them from scoring goals. Think radio-controlled Quidditch where the Striker drone is the ball flying through the opposing hoop.  

Matches are three sets and each set is three minutes long. The winner is best of 3 sets. The matches are fast-paced and aggressive!

STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Math

Drone soccer is an ideal fit for Sato’s STEM-based engineering and biomedical pathways. It challenges the students to apply the technical and problem solving skills they learn in class towards building, flying, programming and repairing drones.

“I really like that drone soccer is both STEM and sport. Student pilots build, program, fly, and repair their drones,” shares Principal Ronnie Coleman. “The innovation, STEM focus, and collaborative team effort is a perfect match for what Sato is all about.” 

US Drone Soccer promotes, “Building, repairing, programming, teamwork. When it comes to career-building, that’s what makes competitive drone soccer so powerful; it’s so much more than aviation. Mechanical engineering, robotics, coding, leadership, and skills organization are all crucial skillsets of a winning team.”

The Teams

Sato has three competitive teams:

Blue: Audrey Rust, Kira Black, Matthew Haley, Michael Rios Tolano, Vivian Galvez

Red: Alana Arroyo, Daniela Espinoza, Ivan Rios Cervantes, Jack Mest, Maria Ignatencu, Sam Jacela

White: Annika Hewitt, Dominic Vanderable, Jaiden Vital, Jett Fellers, Kailexis Huang, Ross Tyler

Team members are Sato students who must maintain a 3.5 GPA to remain on the team. Andrea Gallo, Fremont Elementary STEAM teacher and SDST coach, states,”We take academics seriously. We want you to play, but grades are important.”

As some competitions are during school days, focus and time management are critical. Mr. Gallo shares, “Some of the kids are doing homework between sets during competitions.”

Equity and diversity are also a focus of the program. Mr. Gallo states, “We recognize that females are underrepresented in STEM. We are proud to state that 50% of each team is comprised of females.” Principal Coleman agrees, “Drone soccer can provide experiences for underrepresented populations in STEM-girls, African Americans, Hispanics, and other BIPOC groups.” 

The Competitions

Sato is proud to be the first high school in California to play drone soccer competitively. The teams have had the opportunity to travel domestically, as well as internationally. And with every competition they have entered, Sato has taken 1st place!

• 2023 US Drone Soccer Regional Qualifier in Palm Springs - White team

• 2023 US Drone Soccer National Championship in New York - Red team

• 2024 US Drone Soccer Regional Qualifier in Long Beach - Blue Team

• And this past February, the Red team brought home first place at the International World Cup competition in Hanover, Germany!

What is the secret to their success? Mr. Gallo responds, “I would say setting high expectations, consistency, and weekly practices have been the catalyst of our successes.”

Many team members are having new experiences at these tournaments. Mr. Gallo shares, “There have been so many firsts for the kids. Their first time leaving California, flying on an airplane, leaving the country, and being away from their families… and they have had invaluable experiences of team building, problem solving, emotional pressures, disappointment, and success. The kids have bonded so well.”

Jaiden from the White team shares, “I like going to the competitions and the adrenaline rush. I get super excited. It’s great meeting teams from other schools and making lots of memories.”

Jack, a member of the Red team that traveled to Germany, is grateful for the opportunity. “In Germany, we experienced a different culture and more of the world. We became friends with the team from Turkey. We brought American candy to show goodwill and they brought some too!” Jack says with a smile,”We gave them Sour Patch Kids, and they gave us Turkish Delights. We really bonded and still talk to each other.”

Michael from the Blue team agrees, “One of my favorite aspects is the companionship. It’s a lot of fun being with like-minded people and traveling together. At the competitions, you compete with other teams and make new friends. And we go to places we have never been to before. It’s a higher level of competition.”

The teams will be competing in a pair of tournaments coming up in Virginia, the U.S. Drone Soccer National Championship (4/27) and the 2024 FAI F9A Drone Soccer World Cup (4/28), as well as the Academic Drone Soccer World Cup coming up in San Diego (4/23-4/25).

A Growing Esport

Drone soccer is slowly growing within LBUSD. Cabrillo High School has a strong program placing well in regional and national competitions, and the new Cubberley K-8 team competed in the recent regional qualifier in January. Tincher Elementary (due to 8th grade students’ initiative!) and McBride High School are also developing programs.

Mrs. Gallo explains, “It’s slow going because of the expense. But when they see it in person and realize how fun it is, they want to try it out.”

Since launching the program with a starter package (at a cost of about $13,000), Sato has acquired 24 additional drones and has replaced 126 batteries, hundreds of broken props, and several controllers. They fix as many drones as possible, but the maintenance costs are substantial and the program is always looking for sponsors. 

Mr. Gallo shares, “I didn’t expect the success of the program, with the opportunities to travel domestically and even internationally. We’ve had amazing support from the district and from the parents. Our principal is super supportive. And people have been helping in the background that you don’t see. Giving the kids this opportunity is the most important part.”


Interested in supporting SDST? Their GoFundMe account supports supplies and travel for the team. Go to:






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