FIRST Robotics Competition Blog

Lou Altman

Jul 05, 2017 Written by Frank Merrick.


FIRST Robotics Competition Lou Altman photo

It’s with a heavy heart I announce that Lou Altman, FIRST Robotics Competition Championship Pit Announcer since 2009, passed away a few days ago.


Lou had spent some time battling cancer. At FIRST Championship Houston, he told me he had finished a round of radiation therapy just a few days before, but was determined to continue volunteering for FIRST, which he loved. He loved it so much that he was one of the folks that volunteered at both the Houston and St Louis events this year, investing his own money to do so, just as others had. More consequentially, he invested his own time, which in his case was a very precious commodity.


Lou became involved in FIRST when his daughter Maddie entered high school in 2009 and joined FRC Team 131, CHAOS, from Manchester, NH. As well as volunteering for FIRST, Lou was a sponsor of CHAOS through his company, GlobaFone. Maddie left the team in 2012 upon graduation, but Lou stuck with FIRST, because the program meant so much to him.


Lou’s voice was unmistakable, and he had an approach to pit announcements all his own. He had a special concern for safety and regularly reminded team members to walk in the pits with his unforgettable, and booming, “We walk in the pits!” announcements. I know some people took exception to Lou’s approach, and thought there were alternatives that might have been more effective. I understand this. But a few FRC team members, in St Louis, organized a group run past Lou’s station as a prank. Whether this was truly mean-spirited or not, or had some ultimately positive intent or not, it was certainly at Lou’s expense and an attempt to embarrass him. I think there’s a potential lesson in this. If you are considering an action that could be interpreted as mean-spirited, think twice. Your target may be dealing with issues you know nothing about, and you never know when someone else’s “last” is. Lou’s last-ever chance as Championship Pit Announcer was marred by a dumb prank.


We’ll miss you, Lou. You genuinely cared, and you were a true friend of FIRST. Those are the qualities, along with your unique voice, we’ll always remember.



Back to Blog


WOW, I am so sorry to hear of his passing. He has left the sound of his voice with many a person. It was a pleasure to Volunteer with a Kind Gentle Man. Forever etched in everyone's Memory is repeat after me "We walk in the pits". May the many Wonderful Memories help his Family and his loved ones through this difficult time.. Keeping Lou's loved ones in our thoughts and Prayers

Are you really trying to guilt trip us Frank? That's kinda shallow, a man died and you're taking the opportunity to shame us for playing a playful prank on a man, who happened to be dying... If it meant that much to you and Lou, maybe a blog post specifically about that event would've been in better taste...

I had thought about doing a blog post about this prank after it happened. Instead, I contacted the mentors on the teams that we could identify directly, and asked them to talk to their team members that were involved. In my email, I focused on the safety concerns with the event. Lou's death caused me to think about an aspect of this prank I honestly hadn't considered carefully enough before. In retrospect, a blog instead of an email when this occurred may have been a better choice.  I certainly didn't mean to take inappropriate advantage of this terrible situation, but the incident does highlight the fact that actions can have consequences long after they have passed.  Also, guilt can sometimes be an appropriate emotion.

I don't think he was marred by a "dumb prank" because of that off beat fun thing students did, I actually knew who he was. I never would have remembered him otherwise. I'm a parent, a mentor, and a volunteer so I can relate to him on many levels. I want the students to connect with me, even on the level they did with him. A memory of him they will have forever instead of forgetting who was there. He stood out, they stood out, it was a great moment for us watching to share in. I hope he took it that was as that is how I saw it.

My understanding is he didn't see this as a fun situation. I wasn't present, but from accounts of folks that were in pit admin at the time, he put his eyes down, looked defeated, and didn't talk much after that. 

The FIRST community lost a great, dedicated member who helped the program at personal costs... And you spend the memorial post trying to guilt trip kids? What the hell man. Not cool. Instead of being furious about the pit race, maybe you could have made thoughtful reflections on his dedication to the program. What a low blow. Implying that running 14-18 year olds scarred the legacy of a cancer stricken FIRST employee is not only immature but hurtful to the community, family, and legacy of this legend. Get it together.

My condolences go out to the family and friends of Mr. Altman. I hope that what happened will not mar their memories of his last Championships. I hope that he felt appreciated, and valued. I hope that they all know that teens can make poor choices sometimes, because their brains have not fully formed, and that they didn't mean to be hurtful. I agree with you, guilt can be a good thing, if it causes us to try to make amends, or to think before we act in the future. That would be a lasting tribute to a good man. My prayers go out to his family and friends.

Could something be done at the Festival of Champions to honor Mr. Altman? If nothing else, how about a sign at the entrance to the pits saying "In honor of Lou Altman, Please walk" with his picture and a little biographical information?

I didnt know Lou personally but do remember him. He obviously cared a great deal about the values of FIRST, even humility so I hope the prank was taken well, even in the dark place he was in. Is anyone organizing something for his family? If so, how can the F.I.R.S.T. community help?

Add new comment