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Learning by design: Local teams compete in First Lego League tourney

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Electronic Maniacs watch as their robot competes a task during a practice run.
Nevada Daily Mail

On Saturday, Dec. 8, 23 youth and four coaches left Nevada in the wee hours of the morning to compete in their premier First Lego League tournament. Nevada Parks and Recreation Director Dana Redburn said it would be an understatement to say the kids were a bit apprehensive; but once the caravan pulled into the Kearney Junior High, nerves settled and it was time to get down to business. Cars were unloaded, new T-shirts were put on, and robots were set up for a few practice rounds.

The youngsters were impressed with the number of teams they were competing against and the differences in their robot designs. However, Redburn noted, the atmosphere was very relaxed and one in which each team was willing to help others in advancing to the regional tournament. High fives were common among strangers as teams moved from one portion of the competition to another.

Each team knew they would be judged in four different areas including core values, the Senior Solutions project, robot design, and of course the table competition. Redburn said, "What they were unaware of, was that judges were continually observing them as a team and they earned points for demonstrating what was termed as 'gracious professionalism.'

"What struck me was not only how well the teams got along, but how their actions were so genuine. I am proud to report that one of the teams sponsored by Nevada is a perfect example of 'gracious professionalism'."

After one of the other Nevada teams had just competed they decided they wanted to make some programming changes to their robot. They hurried back to the pit area only to discover the files on their laptop were corrupt. In most instances, this would have been the end for that one team. However, another Nevada team stepped up and offered use of their computer. "It would have been easy to ignore another team having a problem or to even act as if they were using the laptop, but instead, they took the high road and turned over its full use as well as their practice field. That was a very proud moment for their coaches and one that will be rewarded," Redburn said.

Throughout the day, the excitement was almost tangible, she said. During table competitions, completed tasks were rewarded by audience applause similar to that of a home football team scoring the winning touchdown. While teams went head to head, it was common to find coaches stopped in the hallway giving others pointers. Referees and judges were complimentary and willing to offer helpful suggestions. And, it was all about making this one event memorable for the kids.

At the end of the day, none of the Nevada teams qualified for the regional competition.

"But, not a single child walked away hanging their head. They knew they had done a phenomenal job and had been given an opportunity that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. When you ask any member of those Nevada groups if they won, they'll proudly state, 'We didn't win, but I had fun!' With the first year under our belt, we are all looking forward to next year!" Redburn said.

Until then, there is one more task the group hopes to complete. After the hustle and bustle of the holiday season winds down, teams will resume meeting and will make use of some of the information they learned.

In late February, all of the Nevada teams will come together and showcase their robots in a little friendly competition, Redburn said.

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