By Sara Parker
Monadnock Ledger Staff
WILTON -- Two Wilton home-schoolers were part of the team that won the
Director's Award at the FIRST LEGO League International Tournament in
Atlanta, Ga., last week.
The team, which is called Mindstorms Mayhem, competed against 47
champions from 39 states and five other nations to win the award,
which is given to the msot well-rounded team excelling in all judging
categories. The team consists of 10 home schooled students from
Wilton, Milford, Merrimack, Hollis and Bedford.
As winners of the Director's Award at the state tournament in
December, Mindstorms Mayhem went on to represent New Hampshire at the
international competition, held in conjunction with the FIRST Robotics
Competition Championship, in Atlanta, April 15-17.
The youngest of 11 children, Wilton home schoolers Victoria
Umenhofer, 13, and her brother Dan, 10, were excited about Mindstorms
Mayhem's win at the tournament. Being only their first year as a part
of the team the experience has been a good one said their mother and
teacher, Jeanne Umenhofer.
"It's been a wonderful experience for them," said Umenhofer. "The
coaches are extremely knowledgeable and kind, and they've been
especially patient with the rookies."
During the three-day International Invitational, the team's robot
competed against other robots to complete nine "Mission Mars"
challenges in two-and-a-half minutes. The missions were designed to
simulate those obstacles faced by NASA scientists and engineers in the
Mars rover missions.
The team was also judged in technical areas, research and teamwork
and presented their research on geothermal power as a channel-surfing
skit. In five minutes, the judges saw a game show, a news interview,
a science talk show, a rap song, and an interview with a robot
After presenting their research skit and robot during the first day
of competition, Umenhofer said the team got called back the next day
to compete against six other teams in front of all the judges.
Along with the Director's Award, team Mindstorms Mayhem also won
the Special Assignment award. The assignment grouped teams from
across the country into alliances of four teams each. They were given
a special assignment to complete over the two-day period. Mindstorms
Mayhem's alliance teams were from Alaska, Mississippi, and North
Umenhofer said the teams had to work together on the special
assignment using all four robots from each team. For every extra
robot the team used, she said they got bonus points.
"It was really fun to meet other teams and hear the different
accents," said Victoria Umenhofer.
According to Charlotte Gray, whose husband Bill Gray is one of two
coaches on the team, the students researched multiple topics before
choosing to focus on geothermal energy as a power source for future
human habitation modules on Mars. As part of their research, the
students even contacted a scientist in the United Kingdom via e-mail,
who sent them a research paper on geothermal energy.
Since winning in December, Gray said, the students continued to
meet twice a week in the Grays' basement, working on their public
speaking techniques and tweaking the technical aspects of their
In addition to researching and building, the students raised
approximately $10,000 through fund raising and company donations to
pay for the team's trip down to Atlanta. Gray said the students sent
out 99 letters to businesses and received 35 responses from companies
like BAE Systems, Landry's Lawn Mowing, Monadnock Mountain Spring
Water, Burbak Companies, and Shaw's Supermarkets who said they were
willing to help out with the cost.
The FIRST LEGO League is an international program with the goal of
giving children, ages 9-14, the opportunity to discover the rewards of
science and technology. Each year, the program works to hone
problem-solving skills and teamwork as the teams design, build,
program and operate autonomous robots to meet the mission