Last fall I volunteered to coach a First LEGO League robotics team through Troy’s very own WACO Historical Society’s learning center.
Through the Troy Daily News, I had written stories for several years about local teams who participated in this unique event
My son, who is slightly obsessed with building LEGOs, was finally at an age that he could participate last year. I found a smidge of courage and took on coaching a team last year.
So this year, I was paired with another coach whose son enjoyed participating last year. With the two of us having some knowledge of the process from our rookie year, we loaded up our team of seven.
Seven. Boys. Ages 9-13. Seven.
Boys are interesting creatures. I’ll never quite figure them out. As a team of complete strangers, it was enjoyable to see them get to know each other. We had home-schooled kids, we had boys from three different school districts, a pair of brothers and a lot of different backgrounds.
With seven boys (seven!) it was loud and it was chaotic. I learned more about Star Wars than I ever had been exposed to in my life. In fact, the kids got a kick out of meeting here in the editorial newsroom to do their research. We have a large conference table, which they used to “appoint” some sort of “council” in the name of Star Wars. I was just happy they sat still for a few minutes, but, all-in-all, it was a joy to see these kids come up with some pretty awesome ideas and work as a team.
Also, quick tip: If you want to stay in good standing with a small herd of pre-teen young men, bribe them with snacks. Lots of snacks. Trust me.
Each team member contributed to the entire program in some fashion. For example, Evan and the youngest WACOBot, Logan, came up with the team’s “WACOBot Rap.” Other teams in the competition had silly songs or something to share their team identity.
I have never laughed so hard watching seven (seven!) pre-teen boys try to channel their inner Justin Beiber to convey the First LEGO League’s “Core Values” with judges. Yes, they even “dropped the mic” after they were done with the song.
Too cool for school, I tell ya.
Last Saturday, our team competed in the regional finals at Sinclair Community College. It was an all-day event. The morning session is devoted to the kids to show off their research and invention, how they designed their LEGO robot (Angry Walrus was the name) and their teamwork to the judge. The team shared their project research through an “As Seen on TV” info-commercial, which the team wrote themselves. The judges had some tough questions compared to the initial competition a month earlier. The team did well in their areas and scored more than 400 points on the robot game, but sadly they didn’t make it to the next round.
Yet, despite their disappointment, I was most proud of the team as I watched all of them graciously shake hands with other teams and genuinely wish them luck at state finals next month.
I was also proud of them as they demonstrated “Gracious Professionalism” in other areas of not only the competition, but throughout the season.
You see, the boys also got a unique history lesson a week or so ago. During a Saturday afternoon practice, a 90-year-old World War II veteran happened to visit the WACO museum. The boys stopped their work to listen to Glenn Thomas share his story of restoring the Waco airplane that they practiced next to during the season.
They asked good questions. They were polite and respectful. They even gave Mr. Thomas a round of applause when a friend shared that he was a World War II veteran and how he served in the Navy in the Pacific Theater.
And then, I saw Mr. Thomas’ eyes well up with tears.
And then, of course, it made my eyes get a little misty.
So even though the WACOBots didn’t make it to the state competition, I hope they took away more than friendship and a cool medal from this season.
I know I sure did.
“Twin” Melanie Yingst appears weekly in the Troy Daily News. “We are the WacoBots of Troy Ohio and we LOVE SNACKS!”