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Josh Reid of Western Albemarle High School works on his robot.
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BY DAN McFARLAND
Who says it's impossible to get kids excited about science?
Anyone who attended Saturday's FIRST Tech Challenge robotics competition at Locust Grove Middle School would certainly argue that point.
Teams from 22 Virginia middle and high schools, all in their first year of FTC competition, showed up for this rookie qualifier tournament to match their robotic creations with and against other teams in competition to solve a robotic engineering problem. They competed as randomly chosen two-team alliances throughout the day, with the matchups changing for each round, and then formed three-team alliances for the finals.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a not-for-profit volunteer-driven organization founded some 20 years ago by inventor Dean Kamen, president of DEKA Research & Development Corp.
Describing the group's mission, Kamen said, "We want to change the culture by celebrating the mind. We need to show kids that it's more fun to design and create a video game than to play one."
FIRST volunteers form and run four layers of competitive programs, starting with 6-year-olds, and running up through post-high-school age groups. FIRST Tech Challenge is aimed at students in grades 7 through 12, while the FIRST Robotics Competition is a higher level of challenge for grades 9 through 12.
Welcoming the visiting teams to Orange County, District 5 Supervisor Lee Frame recalled his years in U.S. Navy nuclear submarines, dealing with engineering, science and math problems.
"Frankly," he said, "I enjoyed every bit of it, and I'm hoping that all of you who are doing this can think of a career that is as much fun as you're having today."
At the start of the FTC competition, the young contestants were reminded of the FIRST program's core value of gracious professionalism, described as "fierce competition coupled with unqualified kindness and respect." Throughout the day-long tournament, young competitors provided easily seen evidence that they had been listening, and understood and practiced the credo.
They also showed an abundance of characteristically youthful exuberance and excitement, dancing "Gangnam Style" between rounds of play.
JUDGES AWARD: Pantherbots, Massaponax High School, Spotsylvania DESIGN AWARD: Lord of the Bricks, Homeschool Resources Group, Glen Allen MOTIVATE AWARD: Teal Tornadoes Rookies, Glen Allen High School, Henrico
ROCKWELL COLLINS INNOVATE AWARD: I Lite It Up, U.S. STEM, Haymarket CONNECT AWARD: Equinox, Locust Grove Middle School, Orange THINK AWARD: Mavericks, Rocky Run Middle School, Fairfax INSPIRE AWARD: Huskies, Fliint Hill School, Oakton