Area students connect in Lego robot competition

Whenever “Lego” and “championship” are within a few words of each other on a poster, you know something noteworthy is bound to be happening. Add “robots” and trophies made of bright yellow Legos to the mix, and consider yourself as having stumbled upon something truly spectacular.

The FIRST Lego League, part of the FIRST program, held its state championship at Nashua High School South on Saturday. More than 50 teams and 360 students ages 9-14 competed to win the Chairman’s Award and qualify for international competition.

This year’s challenge for the FLL teams was to address the issue of climate change and its effects on their community, as well as provide innovative solutions to the climate problem.

Not only did the participants have to create a research project centered on a climate issue of their choice and present it to the judges, but they also had to design, build and program a robot to complete a series of “challenge missions” related to the climate theme, such as turning off a light or extracting an ice- core sample.

As soon as the opening ceremony had ended in the morning, teams dressed in imaginative costumes, from turkey hats to sparkly cardboard Spartan helmets, set up their own tables in the “pit” and practice area and walked around to see the handiwork of their competitors.

The eager, anxious atmosphere among the participants was unmistakable as they waited to show off their hard work to the judges.

“We’re just really glad to be here,” said Katelyn Griswold, a member of the team Some Assembly Required from Fairgrounds Middle School in Nashua.

Some Assembly Required is no stranger to the pressures of competing at the state level, having reached the state championship twice prior to this year’s event. Although its presentation dealt with the subject of mosquito control, the team’s motto, “May the forks be with you,” reflected the design in its two forklift robots, named Wallace and Gromit.

Although they weren’t armed with witty mottos, the members of Blue Screen of Death from Elm Street Middle School in Nashua definitely had an eye-catching team name. As one of several rookie teams in the competition, Blue Screen of Death won its division for research in the qualifying round and lived up to its reputation admirably with a three-part research project and presentation for the state championship.

The team had a skit of the current emergency plan for extreme weather circumstances in Nashua, as well as an innovation called “the enviro-chock,” an environmentally friendly airplane fuel container that doubled as a wheel chock to stop the plane’s wheels from moving on the runway.

“We split the work up (among ourselves) and all took responsibilities,” team member Trevor Naro said, “and had a few laughs along the way, too.”

The championship was composed of three main events: the technical judging, the rounds and the research project presentation. In the technical judging, the teams presented their robots to a panel of judges and demonstrated the machinery’s capabilities, while in the rounds, the teams had to try to complete as many missions as possible with their robots in two and a half minutes.

The competition area was a cross between a wrestling match and a rock concert, with multicolored stage lights whirring above referees dressed in striped T-shirts and a wide variety of crazy hats as competitors battled to finish as many missions as possible in the allotted time.

Even though an impromptu fire alarm set the day’s schedule back by 20 minutes and concession shortages in the cafeteria irked hungry competitors, nothing could dampen the enthusiasm shared by participants and organizers of the championship alike.

“The FIRST Lego League shows young people the opportunities available in the science, math and engineering fields, as well as in business and marketing,” said Joan Ferguson, communications director for BAE Systems, which has sponsored the FLL state championship and several of the regional competitions for seven years.

“It also helps students learn to respect the diversity of ideas and perspectives, while developing their analytic skills and self-confidence.”

No matter which teams left the competition with a chance to continue on in the competition and a yellow Lego trophy in their hands, it’s clear they’ll have learned and experienced more than just the euphoria of winning or the heartbreak of defeat.