May 21st, 2019

robotics tournament 2018The Tyrone Hyrdrocats robotics team looks at its project during last year’s First LEGO League robotics tournament at the Mid-America Air Museum. This year’s tournament will be Saturday, March 23 at the museum and will feature 36 different teams. L&T photo/Robert PierceELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


The Mid-America Air Museum has been undergoing projects during the past several months and soon, one of the museum’s most popular annual events will be returning. 

The First LEGO League robotics tournament will be taking place all day Saturday, March 23 at MAAM and MAAM staff is excited to see how this year turns out. 

“This year's themes are about space, with the older children's theme being 'Into Orbit' and the younger children's theme being 'Moon Mission,' and their project involves researching different facets of space,” MAAM Curator Peggy McCulley said. “We've got one team research what space travel does to our eyes, and they'll be presenting that to the judges. The morning activities will include judging of the core values of the project, which the teams have to research and report on, and every team member has to speak and then they're also judged on robotic design. Then in the afternoon we'll have the tournament tables set up for the actual robotics tournament and each team will compete three separate times that afternoon. Each team will have two and a half minutes for their robot to complete various tasks and things like that. And the cool thing is nothing is remote-controlled, the competitors have to design, build and program their robot to do the tasks.”

This is the museum’s seventh year of doing the tournament and has 36 teams signed up for this year's event, which is the most in the tournament’s history. There are 24 FLL teams and 12 FLL Junior teams, and McCulley said the teams come from as far away as Campo, Colo., Booker, Texas, and Sterling, Texas, along with several teams from Oklahoma and several from other local areas in Kansas, including four teams from Liberal. 

“It's really a big variety, which is great. Everyone is welcome, it is a free day for the public,” McCulley said. “In the afternoon is when the public will see the most of what will be going on that day. The bleachers will be filled with other children and coaches and family members and the general public. When the teams are at the tournament tables it's very intense for them because they're working so hard to make sure their robots do what they're supposed to do. And there have been times where that's been unsuccessful but when that light bulb goes off, they're so elated and excited. It can get kind of noisy in here because of everything going on.”

McCulley also talked about some of the changes she has seen with the tournament during the event’s tenure with the museum. 

“We started this out with only four teams and now we're up to 36 teams for this year,” McCulley said. “We've grown so much and we've challenged ourselves to meet all of that. We've also seen changes in the children themselves – they'll come in and have no idea what they're getting in to and they've had to learn how to deal with other certain topics rather quickly like natural disasters and animals and hydrodynamics, and by the time they age out, they're completely different because they have more confidence and self-assurance and a larger world view. I get the fun part of working with the LEGOs and making sure everything's where it should be, so that's always really fun to be in charge of.”

McCulley said the community is encouraged and invited to attend the tournament and see everything that goes on. 

“We would love to have the public come and see what we're doing with all of this and see how the team members act,” McCulley said. “One major part of this program is cooperation with everyone and the teams all have to learn how to work with each other and help if necessary. It's not really an athletic event where you're looking to beat your opponent(s), it's a competition more against yourself to better yourself. We'd love to have the public come out and cheer for the teams, they need support and encouragement and it would be great to see lots of support out here. And if robotics isn't really your thing, you can come out and just tour the museum and see our collection and see what all is going on. Like I said, everyone is welcome, it is a free day for the public.”

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