By Kim West
It’s not unusual for a group of Athens students to spend a Saturday competing in a youth tournament against other teams from the Tennessee Valley.
But, instead of soccer balls or football equipment, tournament teams at Jones Valley Elementary School on Dec. 14 covered their playing surfaces with Lego models, and players wore name tags and brightly-colored shirts instead of uniforms.
For the second-consecutive year, the Athens Robot Team advanced to the FIRST Lego League state championship after claiming a first-place trophy in the research project division and second place in robot performance at an eight-team regional tournament in Huntsville.
During regional competition, judges evaluated each team for its core values, robot design and research project. Then the teams engaged in a head-to-head, three-round robot competition.
In its first year of competition at last year’s regionals, the Athens team placed third for its research project and second in robot performance.
“The research project session was where the team presented their concept for using drones to help fight wildfires,” said Andy Grose, who coaches ART with fellow parent and engineer Jeff Biggs. “The theme for this year’s competition was ‘Nation’s Fury,’ and teams were asked to develop a solution to help prepare or recover from a natural disaster. Our team chose wildfires and explored how we could use drone technology to help improve the safety of the firefighters on the ground.”
Grose said the Athens squad, which also qualified for state last season, came within one point of capturing first place in the robot performance competition.
“Two of our three rounds went perfectly, and we scored the maximum points we attempted,” he said. “Despite our valiant efforts, we came up one point short of first place.”
ART, which is comprised of seven students ages 9 to 14 from the Athens school system, will compete in the state tournament in January.
Team members are Grant Metcalfe, Jake Collins, Adam Biggs, Drew Grose, Collin Chambers, Parth Patel and Benjamin Carlota.
The stated purpose of the FIRST Lego League competition is to inspire students to pursue careers in STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, oversees FIRST Lego League competitions. FIRST Lego League competitions involve 205,000 students in grades 4 through 8 on 20,500 teams worldwide.