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The Journal Gazette

  • Marten Slager, 14, left, and Matt Lovinger, 13, of Summit Middle School’s Driving Force team watch their robot perform its mission. Teams get points for how quickly and flawlessly their robot completes three tasks.

  • Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette The Lincoln SmartBots from Hammond, left, and the BeigerBots from Mishawaka cheer on their teams at the 15th annual First Lego League Indiana Championship at the IPFW Fieldhouse on Saturday.

  • Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette Bernie Gandin, 11, left, and Gabe Schillereff, 14, of Carroll Middle School’s Legacy Blue team, adjust their robot during their match.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015 8:04 pm

State students cheer on robots

Steve Warden The Journal Gazette

Nearing the end of their two minutes and 30 seconds that each team’s robots are allotted to perform a series of tasks, the kids and coaches from the B-town Bots all jumped and hammered high-fives.

Because the small robot went through some of its missions nearly flawlessly, the team of sixth-grade students from two Bloomington, Indiana, elementary schools had scored well enough to capture the early lead at the 15th annual First Lego League state tournament Saturday at the IPFW Fieldhouse.

"We scored really high for our first round," said Susan Bretsch, one of the four team coaches. "We did better than what we did at our regional in Columbus (Indiana). That’s why they were so excited."

Bretsch’s team was among the 52 from around the state to compete in the annual event that has children between the ages of 9 and 14 come together as a team to design, build and program small robots constructed entirely from Legos.

The robots, which can easily be picked up, are programmed to perform a series of designated "missions" in an enclosed area the size of a rectangle dining room table.

In order for spectators in the Fieldhouse’s bleachers to watch the action, a camera follows the robot’s progress and projects the video onto a screen. Just as points are awarded for each "mission," which different Lego attachments are snapped into place by team members, points are also deducted for mistakes.

Each team has three opportunities, and the winner is decided by the most points scored in one attempt.

Team Storm, from Terre Haute, won the event and will advance to the national competition next spring in either California or Kentucky.

Wearing matching hot pink T-shirts (and some contestants with pink-tinted hair), the Lincoln SmartBots from Syracuse, Indiana, had a continuous "Let’s go Lincoln!" chant during the two and a half minutes.

"We came to state last year and we did like 27th place," said Jonathan Janik, a fifth-grader at Lincoln Elementary who was on last year’s team.

"It’s a lot of fun. We get an experience of learning, and we get to have fun with our friends."

Tournament director Carol Dostal, director of outreach programs at IPFW, said an estimated 525 kids competed in the day-long event.

"We’re used to seeing this kind of teamwork and excitement for sports, and that’s how they came up with this idea," Dostal said. "They call it the ‘sports for the mind.’

"At IPFW, our goal is to not only serve the community with this event, but really to bring to Fort Wayne and bring to IPFW the excitement. You can tell from being here that the kids are excited, the coaches are excited.

"I think it starts to build into the kids at a very early age the value and the importance of engineering, technology and science, so they can really see the relevance in their lives and in the community," she said. "We hope they choose these as career fields."