CLEMSON—Five teams from three Catholic schools competed in the FIRST LEGO League State Championship and the Junior FIRST LEGO League State “Show Off” held at Clemson University last week.
Students from St. Mary Help of Christians School in Aiken, St. John School in North Charleston and St. Michael School in Garden City joined more than 800 children, ages 9 to 14, for a day of robot competition at Clemson’s Littlejohn Coliseum.
Each team built autonomous robots from LEGOs that completed specific tasks on a 4-foot by 8-foot obstacle course. Each team had two-and-a-half minutes to complete the course.
The theme of this year’s event was “Smart Move.” As part of the challenge, teams had to research and solve a real problem in their community related to transportation, such as making it safer or more efficient.
Teams were scored in four areas: robot performance, design and programming, the project and teamwork.
“We’re growing the next crop of young scientists and engineers, and this is the best place to see what the future holds,” said Chris Minor, senior lecturer in biological sciences at Clemson. She volunteers with her husband John to coordinate the championship.
Kyle Myres coaches three teams from St. Michael: Gator Alpha, Gator Gamma and Gator Omega.
“It’s incredible to see these kids solve problems,” Myres said. “It’s real problem solving, real-world things.”
Myres is trained as an electrical engineer, but she teaches math and religion at St. Michael.
“As an educator, one of the neat things to me is everybody succeeds,” she said.
Not only does the competition teach youth about science, engineering and technology, it also teaches teamwork and sportsmanship.
“These kids learn to be competitors on the field, but work side by side and collaborate with one another off the field,” Minor said. “They learn a lot about working together.”
In fact, teamwork is a big part of the success for the First Knights, the team from St. John.
“The focus is always on the team,” said Stephen Kramp, who coaches the students along with his wife, K.C.
“They take care of each other,” Mrs. Kramp said.
The program at St. John is in its ninth year and has been very popular at a school that only has 64 students.
“It’s been a huge boost for the school,” Mr. Kramp said.
The Kramps have been coaching at St. John since 2001. Mr. Kramp, whose background is in engineering, handles the robotics aspect of the program. Mrs. Kramp, with a math and science background, focuses on the research side.
“It’s all done for the kids,” Mr. Kramp said.
Michelle Nelson coaches the Go Bros from St. Mary Help of Christians School in Aiken. She said that while her team didn’t do as well as they had hoped, they had a great time competing.
“It was a great experience for them and they walked away with many ideas for next year,” Nelson said in an e-mail to The Miscellany following the competition.
The St. Mary program is in its third year, she said.
Most of the money needed to keep the program going at the three Catholic schools comes from donations and fundraisers.
This fall, St. Michael’s teams will hold a “Bots at the Beach” competition to raise money for next year’s FIRST LEGO program.
Among those cheering on St. Michael was Father Andrew Trapp, who was at the competition for the second straight year.
Father Trapp said he helps the students at practices during the school year and enjoys following them to the state competition.
“It allows the students to get excited about math and science,” he said. “It’s something I wish I had when I was in middle school.”