By ELISE McKEOWN SKOLNICK
Hoots and hollers filled the Austintown Middle School gym as competing teams were introduced.
But these teams were different from the usual ones competing in the gym. They were FIRST LEGO League teams. FIRST LEGO League is a robotics program meant to get children excited about science and technology while teaching life skills such as teamwork, communication and work ethics.
“We’re all about teaching these kids to get excited about STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics],” said Andy Yantes, event coordinator.
The daylong Northeast Ohio District Tournament on Saturday included a morning of judging — on the project, core values and robot design.
All projects were based on one theme: “Nature’s Fury.”
“So they had to come up with a natural disaster, a location where that could happen, and an innovative idea to help out during that natural disaster,” said Yantes.
Robot matches, which were open to the public, took place during the afternoon. A combination of points accumulated from the matches and the judging determined the final ranking.
“It’s a really a good kids’-leadership program,” said Ron Giovannone, coach of Biohazard, an Austintown Middle School team.
Nathan Spalding, a member of Biohazard, said the team worked hard to get to this point.
“The judging went great,” the eighth-grader said. “We performed better than we thought. All of our practice made it great.”
The team has been working two nights a week since September, and recently meeting daily to prepare for the tournament.
“It’s fun,” said Spalding, an aspiring aerospace engineer. “I get to meet all these people, learn how to work with a team, and it’ll really help me for later on in life.”
Tiffany Olin of Aurora attended to watch her niece, Emily Kerensky, 12, compete. Emily is a member of Slightly Different.
“I think this is great,” Olin said. “I’m very proud of her that she’s doing this, especially since it’s a predominantly male sport.”
There’s a lot of creativity involved, Olin noted. For example, she said, her niece’s team wears sparkly fedoras and bow ties.
“They have a lot of fun with it,” she said.
The tournament included the top 10 teams of students age 9 to 14 from Ohio’s Northeast region. The winners advance to the FLL Ohio State Tournament in Dayton.