Eighth-graders Kyle Hueston, left, and Caleb Edwards of St. John s Jesuit Academy watch as their robot, Sparky, navigates during the competition at the Toledo Technology Academy.
The buzz in the old DeVilbiss High School gymnasium was equal to a basketball game against heated rivals, complete with cheers, dance music, applause, and high-fives.
Parents and supporters filled the stands as teams in the First LEGO League held its fifth annual Toledo regional tournament yesterday afternoon. The building is the home of the Toledo Technology Academy, a magnet high school for Toledo Public Schools.
The First LEGO League provides learning experiences in science and technology for students ages 9 to 14. Some 280 of them from 26 schools as far away as Cleveland and Lima, Ohio, participated in the competition.
Teams built and programmed small robots using LEGO Mindstroms that had to whiz around a large table and complete tasks such as dumping items into a box and flipping gadgets within a certain amount of time. Each team member had an area for which they were responsible during the competition.
Bill Niehous, the retired vice president of Owens-Illinois who started the competition five years ago, said he believes the tournament is helping students learn and enjoy technology.
Referee Jeff Smith talks to Douglas Pienta, center, and Lydia Vergara about the score of their robot s performance. Douglas and Lydia are students at West Side Montessori Center.
I m very pleased with the way it has grown, Mr. Niehous said. It has gone from the 10 teams we had the first year to 26 this year. We had a state champion three years ago and many regional champions. The most important thing is that kids are learning about technology and realizing that it s fun.
Mr. Niehous, a supporter of the Toledo Technology Academy, was eager to point out that seven teams from TPS took part, including squads from Grove Patterson, East Broadway, West Side Montessori, and Hawkins schools as well as DeVeaux, Leverette, and Robinson junior high schools.
Other teams were assembled according to friendships and common interests, such as the Circuit Breakers 2.0, a group of mostly Toledo-area home school students who share a love of science.
Lori Shaw, their coach, said her son Rowan, 12, and his friend, Harry Thaman, 12, helped bring the team together.
Ms. Shaw said Rowan became interested after watching his older brother, Ian, a student at Emmanuel Baptist Christian School, compete in the tournament several years ago.
I think they enjoy the problem-solving aspect of it and the fun of making things work, Ms. Shaw said. This is kind of the second generation of the team since Ian left, so they had to find other kids. That s why they are Circuit Breakers 2.0, she said.
Members of the team were so dedicated to their cause they had their initials printed in binary code on their team shirts.
I like the satisfaction of building and making the robot, said Harry, who competed on the team with his sister, Beatrice Thaman, 10. The Toledo [competition] based a lot [of points] on the robot, so I think we have a good chance to win.
Waverly Hill-Mathis, 12, a sixth grader at Toledo Christian School, is the only team member who is not home schooled. She said she enjoyed being one of three girls on the team.
Most people tell me that engineering is not for girls, Waverly said. It s fun because I m interested in science and math, and it s something that I want to do.
It was Grove Patterson s first competition. Rich Bucklew coached his daughter Cassandra, 12. He said the experience left his team with a renewed interest and view of science and technology.
The competition s champions were the Whizkids, a team of students from Sylvania s Timberstone Junior High, who won the director s award.
That team, along with six others, will compete in the two-day state championship Jan. 14-15 in Dayton.
The other qualifying teams were: Circuit Breakers 2.0; the Robojags, students from St. Joseph School, Sylvania; the Quantum Bots, a Toledo team of home-school students; Laurel School, Cleveland, and two teams from Shawnee Middle School in Lima.