Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

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December 25, 2013
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Local robotic teams take home state hardware

The four local teams competing at the Colorado First Lego League state championships at Overland High School in Denver on Dec. 14 put in solid performances, with three teams taking home trophies.

The 68 Colorado teams competing in the tournament had to design, build, program and run robots they made entirely from Legos. The robots are not remote-controlled and were programmed to accomplish specific tasks on a challenge course.

The four local teams qualified for the state tournament during the regional qualifier at Glenwood Springs High School in November.

Like the competition at Glenwood Springs, the state tournament had several aspects to the scoring, with each team receiving points for the technical design of its robot, how its members worked as a team, project presentations and how their robot performed on the challenge course.

“I couldn’t be happier with how our local teams performed,” said Caroline Hanson, the director for the Glenwood Springs qualifying tournament and robotics coach at Aspen Middle School. “They had some real challenges thrown at them, but they overcame them and learned to deal with adversities. A big part of this competition is learning to adapt and adjust as a team.”

The theme of the 2013 competition was “Nature’s Fury,” with teams looking at a natural disaster and working together to find solutions that could help people when such a disaster strikes.

The Longhornbots from Basalt Middle School qualified for the state tournament for the second straight year and brought home a trophy after finishing second in the inspiration aspect of the Core Values category. The team from Basalt, coached by Kara and Quent Williams, also placed 12th overall in the Robot Performance category.

Three teams from Aspen Middle School — the Smokejumpers, the Walking Disasters and Technolanche — also qualified to compete in Denver.

Technolanche brought back a trophy for finishing second in the strategy and innovation aspect of the Robot Performance category.

The Smokejumpers struggled on the robot challenge course but never lost their positive attitude. For that, they were awarded first place in the inspiration aspect of the Core Values category.

The Smokejumpers also raised $350 in loose change to send to the International Red Cross.

The Walking Disasters didn’t win a trophy but recorded the team’s highest score ever on the robot challenge course.

“There’s a lot of pressure on these kids when they have to perform in front of their peers,” Hanson said. “The bar is raised when you know these are the best teams in the state. Even the top teams struggled at times, but in the end, they all had fun and learned a lot about working as a team.”

The four local teams had to compete against some 5A schools and focused home-school teams that had access to local engineering resources and dedicated science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs.

There’s also an opportunity for the public to help support the local teams. Aspen resident Jim Aresty is a big supporter of the local robotic programs and made a donation of $25,000 to support the programs. It was the third year in a row he’s made such a gift.

“That money is a huge help,” Hanson said. “It supports all the Aspen teams and supports our staff and volunteers. It’s a wonderful gift.”

Aresty has asked the community to match his gift. Anyone interested in making a donation to the program can go to www.aspen aef.org and click on the blue donation circle on the top of the page.

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The Aspen Times Updated Dec 24, 2013 06:44PM Published Dec 27, 2013 07:20PM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.