News - December 14, 2003

Lego League competitors
score championships

Sunday News Correspondent

NASHUA — Junior engineers from around New Hampshire landed on Nashua High’s north campus yesterday for the First Lego League statewide championships.

The event offered about 450 children, ages 9-14, a mission: Design a robot out of Lego blocks and, combining teamwork and research, maneuver it through a complex obstacle course on a simulated Red Planet.

Organizers, however, suggest a second mission: getting kids excited about science.

“They’re not sinking baskets,” said Scott Evans, league engineer. “We give them a fun environment to learn about something that’s tough to get kids excited about.”

Yesterday’s championship, one of 42 nationwide this month, combined “the energy of a Super Bowl with the contents of a science fair,” he said.

Forty-eight teams, flanked by as many as 1,000 friends, relatives and coaches, gathered at the high school as early as 7:30 a.m. None of the competitors left without a medal.

“What’s important is that each kid goes home feeling like a winner,” said Amy Bucklin, spokeswoman for the event.

Mindstorms Mayhem, a Milford-based team of homeschoolers, took home the coveted Director’s Award, given to the most well-rounded squad.

“I think the lord has gifted us,” said Mayhem member Ben Streeter, 15, of Bedford, explaining his team’s victory.

Scores were based on four criteria: research, design, teamwork and robot performance.

Under dimmed lights, parents and competitors cheered as two teams, Spoink and Robosquad, battled for first place in the performance category.

Even after being knocked out of the contest, competitors danced on the sidelines and cheered on their former opponents.

Of course, the kids come to win, said Randy Bohannan, coach of the Flying Geeks, based in Nashua. “It’s sports for geeks,” he said.

Joyce Askenaizer, whose twin daughters competed for the Space Cows from Hollis, said her girls take the competition seriously. They’re into engineering, not Barbie, she said.

“They played with their brother’s Legos more than he did,” she said.

Linda Lavoie, the tournament’s director, said the league is getting more competitive, Lavoie said. The only qualification a team needed to reach last year’s championship was to have its name pulled out of a hat, she said.

This year, more than 100 teams squared off in tournaments across the state.

The transition was not as smooth as they had hoped. Last weekend’s storm forced the league to cancel four of those contests.

To make up for the lost matches, teams gathered in Manchester Thursday night for a quick-hit showdown.

Organizers and sponsors are hoping the tournament inspires kids to admire scientists as much as athletes, Evans said. Sponsors like BAE Systems, which is active in aerospace technology, are interested in the competition’s real-world applications, he said.

“They know they’re cultivating their future workforce,” he said.

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