First Lego League

The Hot Squad team sets up its board for the First League League competition conducted last Saturday at Sarracino Middle School in Socorro.

Figuring out how to venture into space and land on the moon was the task at hand for young competitors at the Dec. 1 First Lego League State Qualifier.

Conducted at Sarracino Middle School, several teams came out in the second of five events put on around the state. The HOT Squad (standing for Heroes of Tomorrow) brought home the championship award from the Nov. 17 Las Cruces event. Team X, a community team in Socorro, took home the championship trophy. The Coyote Bots took the performance award, the Lego Lasers won best robot performance and the Kirkland Space Ninjas were awarded best robot of the competition.

“Every year it seems so complexed for the kids,” event coordinator and HOT Squad coach Gwen Valentino said. “Every year I think there is no way that they are going to be able to finish the task. Then they start figuring out ways to solve problems and work together to find a solution. I don’t know how they do it. All the teams not just mine continue to impress in just how creative they can be.”

Teams prepared for the competition at coaches’ and parents’ homes in weeks prior to strategize how their preprogrammed robots would maneuver its way through the course. The Junior FLL group, comprised of players ages 6-10, went first on smaller tables ranging from 15 by 15 to 15 by 30 inches in size. The junior league is designed to encourage young minds and prepare them for official FLL competition.

County Manager Delilah Walsh and her husband Dennis led an all girl’s junior team called the Robo Rosie’s, named after the famous Rosie the Riveter image. The group wore matching folded red bandanas in honor of Rosie during the competition.

“My bigger view is we’re possibly seeing the next generation of gifted Tech students before our eyes,” Dennis Walsh said. “The students that participate in events like this often grow up to be really amazing individuals academically. These are the types of personalities that are going to run the show at IBM or Microsoft, you name it. The sky’s the limit.”

Main competition began next with teams competing in three events on a 6 foot by 10 foot table. Each group chose between fifteen different topics that included Space Travel, Extraction, Food Production and Escape Velocity. All rounds were judged based on three categories; project, design and in game performance.

Robots were set up in a particular corner of the board and had 150 minutes to finish the course that they had designed. Teams were penalized whenever they had to reset their bot and also given extra points anytime they helped in assisting other teams struggling on their course.

Greg Valentino also volunteered to help organize and run the event.

“For me my favorite part of this event is just talking to kids and asking them what their favorite part of the competition was,” he said. “A lot of parents have said to myself and other volunteers what a great confidence booster this is for the kids which makes all of this worth it.”

Taking time out of his busy schedule, Sheriff William Armijo was decked out in space themed team attire with family and friends to support his daughter Christin and eventual winner Team X.

“This is an amazing way for our daughter and the kids to learn about working with people and dealing with stress,” he said. “When I was Christin’s age I was extremely shy and afraid to speak in front of people. To see her come out and do this and see the confidence and potential in her future makes me so proud as a parent.”

The FLL competition has become one of Socorro’s biggest youth development programs in the community. Teams from Magdalena, San Antonio and Cottonwood Valley were also involved.

“It seems like as an adult people have to realize just how cut throat work and business of any kind can be,” Gwen Valentino said. “To see these kids work together and collaborate is something special. They’re tough competitors but in a friendly way. Mostly they are competing against themselves. You have to remember that even if they’re your opponent one day doesn’t mean that they aren’t also people and your friends. We can learn a lot more than we think from these kids out here.”

Teams will next compete in Los Alamos on Dec. 8. That will be followed by a Dec. 15 event in Farmington and the final qualifier on Jan. 12 in Alamogordo. State championships will be held on Feb. 9 at Menaul High School in Albuquerque. The team with the highest cumulative score in the five events will move on to the national championships on April 17-20 in Houston.