Rector LEGO Team Qualifies for Nationals

Thursday, January 31, 2019
Members of the Rector Cougar LEGO team include, from left: Front-Austin Simmons, Chloe McCurry, Libby Green and Ben Shimming. Back-Anna Isom, Emma Holmes, Jaxson Burns, Maggie Rabjohn, and Jaydin Stirnaman.
TD photo/Jane Gatewood

Rector Elementary School’s Lego League team carried the name Rector Cougars into State Competition in Fayetteville at the University of Arkansas recently, during an outbreak of very cold weather. Thanks to their effort, they came home with third place in the state and the invitation to complete at the next level competition in California in May. No group of Rector Elementary students has achieved the level of success enjoyed by this year’s Lego League team, coached by Rector teachers Lance Mabrey and Stephanie Golladay, and parent Heather Simmons.

With Mabry at the wheel, the students made the bus trip and checked into their team hotel with parents who accompanied them. Even though it was freezing outside, the students played Marco Polo in the heated pool and then buckled down for the Knock-Out tournament, the first level of competition. “If we didn’t do well in knock out, we would not advance at all. It was a bracket-type competition and while we were eating pizza and drinking sodas, everybody was also competing,” explained programming captain Austin Simmons. Ben Shimming said, “We got further than we ever had and even though we were kinda nervous, we ate.” Jaxon Burns remarked, “I can always eat.” The referees announced the team names as they advanced and the Rector Cougars made the finals or Elite Eight. More success followed.

The group took their programmed robot into competition and presented their project, showcasing their research and solutions to the presented problem. Their problem focused on life in space and how to make orbit-life more comfortable with astronauts being able to exercise more efficiently and comfortably and become refreshed by familial communication. Smells from home were also included in their imaginative solution.

The team presented their robot’s mechanical design, its programming, informed the judges of their strategy and explained how they used innovation in their design. In an explanation of the team’s core values, the group scored five extra points from categories such as inspiration, teamwork and gracious professionalism.

Judges’ comments from score sheets remarked, “Their skit was awesome and their use of engineering design principles was impressive.” The students were also commended for the obvious “blend of older and newer members.” Fellow coaches told Mabrey the Cougar team “was successful because the team improved each year, learning from past performances. It was only a matter of time until this team broke through into the top performances.”

On the night before the main competition, the students had orders to be asleep by 10:30, but some confessed to laughing and giggling until almost midnight. Awake by 6 a.m., the competitors wolfed down their breakfast. “I love waffles. I did not burn my waffle this time, joked Chloe Mccurry. That was our first win that day.” The team got to the competition and began their work with different sets of judges. In the first round, they scored enough points to go into the Final Four. That second round for the top honors was one of their best performances.

“In our skit,” Ben Shimming said, “Everyone did great. When we had the most pressure, we did the best.” “Each level got harder and harder and we got excited because we got points with each mission. On some levels, the teams would get all the points or no points at all,” Austin Simmons explained.

Remembering their third overall finish came with a trip to California, the team broke into spontaneous comments. “It’ll be my first time to ride in an airplane,” said just about every student when they started to talk about California. “I want to sit by the window. I’m going to take pictures outside the window,” echoed many teammates. The team will be flying to Carlsbad, Calif., home of Legoland. Families may decide to travel with the team. The competition is May 17 to 19, but the Cougar group may leave on May 15, to add some extra highlights for these kids. A parent meeting is scheduled for next week.

Remembering the announcement that punched this team’s ticket to California, the group conversation focused on the winning announcement. “Before they announced our name, it was stressful. Since we were third, our name was announced last,” shared Libby Green.

“My eyes were watering. Some people were screaming. Some were crying. They announced Rector Cougars and we jumped up and screamed. When I saw Austin running down there, we all took off for the front. Everyone was cheering and clapping. Emma Holmes said, “I was shaking.” Maggie Rabjohn said, “Not to be weird, but my hands were sweating.”

“We’re very close,” added Maggie. Jackson Lynn said, “When I moved here over the summer, this was a great team to join to get to know people. This has been a great experience.”

Coach Lance Mabry shared, “They’ve seen levels of success in the past and they want to keep it going. Even other schools are excited for this team.”

First year Lego League participants are Chloe McCurry, Libby Green, Jackson Lynn, Jaydin Stirnaman, Anna Isom, Ben Shimming. Second year Lego League participants are Jaxon Burns, Maggie Rabjohn. Third year Lego League participants and Programming captains include Austin Simmons and Emma Holmes.

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