LA GRANDE - Two teams from Grant County competed in the FIRST Lego League/Oregon Robotics Tournament Outreach Program Qualifying Tournament at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande Friday, December 1.

The Monument RoboClan and the John Day Teckno Team were among 24 teams vying for a chance to move on to the state tournament, to be held in January at Liberty High School in Hillsboro.

The John Day Teckno Team placed first in the rookie division to win a trophy and earn a trip to Hillsboro. The Monument team, which is in its second year, also competed in the rookie division. Last year they could not make it to La Grande due to weather conditions.

Although the Monument team did not place they were very proud of their performance and had a great time attending the tournament.

"They had a ball. It was such a wonderful experience," said Michele Warner, RoboClan's coach. "We were so worried before we got there. My kids just did wonderful, especially being their first year in the tournament."

Warner said the club is a good teaching experience for her kids.

"I think the one big thing (they learn) is problem solving, and the programming behind the problem," she said. "And knowing that big problems are not solved with one big step, it takes many, many steps. And teamwork - I think you cannot come together unless you have kids willing to come together to solve a problem."

"They are looking forward to competing again next year," she said.

The John Day Teckno team overcame a slow start early in the day to win their trophy.

"I'm extremely proud of the kids. They worked hard and came up with some great ideas," said Techno Team coach Holly Bentz. "At the tournament they showed great teamwork and courtesy to other teams."

The Lego League program is sponsored by For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology (FIRST). According to the FIRST website, "FIRST is a multi-national non-profit organization, that aspires to transform culture, making science, math, engineering, and technology as cool for kids as sports are today."

Local tournaments are sponsored by Oregon Robotics Tournament Outreach Program (ORTOP).

This year ORTOP sponsored 21 tournaments for 359 teams from Oregon and Southwest Washington.

According to Cathy Switzer of ORTOP, the tournament consisted of four prongs: a table competition, where the team accomplishes tasks using their robot; completion of a technical assessment based on the theme of the tournament; giving a project presentation based on the theme; and an assessment on teamwork by judges, based on the second and third prongs. Each prong is worth 25 percent of the total points possible.

"Our very first year was 2001; this is year number six," said Switzer. "Oregon is the largest - as far as the number of teams - singly run program in the U.S."

"Two things emphasized throughout the program are that the kids do the work and that the program is kept fun!" said Bentz.

Kids learn to program a Lego Technics robot to complete tasks related to the theme of the year. This year the theme was "Nanotechnology." In addition, the teams must complete a research project related to the theme. In order to complete this year's research the teams needed to learn about nanotechnology, and propose a new way to use it or improve an existing way, and then create a creative and fun presentation regarding their idea. The John Day Team chose to present on the idea of using nanotechnology to help people stop smoking and to heal the organs damaged by smoking.

Next year's challenge will be titled the "Power Puzzle" and will focus on alternative energy and how the choices we make affect the economy, the ecology and our way of life.

The John Day team was sponsored by the local Kiwanis, Lions and Oregon Trail Electric Co-op, in addition to receiving a scholarship from ORTOP. The Monument team supporters included the Monument Booster club.

Bentz hopes to have more teams from Grant County next year. She plans to begin recruiting in June and will begin forming teams during the summer.

Anyone interested in coaching, mentoring or sponsoring all or part of a team for next year's challenge can contact her at 541-575-4247.

For more information on FIRST Lego League go online (www.firstlegoleague.org) or (www.ortop.org).

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