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Photo courtesy of Rich Mezic
Photo courtesy of Rich Mezic
The FLLASH from Sacred Heart pose with the Lego toilet they built to model their research project.

Students from the Sacred Heart Catholic Academy in Glendale brought their robotics skills all the way to Harlem when they competed in the city finals of the FIRST Lego League (FLL) on March 11.

They call themselves the “FLLASH” (FIRST Lego League at Sacred Heart), and the team of seventh-graders was one of 60 teams from around New York City that met at City College of New York (CCNY) to compete for the right to move on to the national finals held in Detroit, Michigan, in April. While the FLLASH came up short, their custom-designed Lego Mindstorms robot still finished respectably in sixth place, and coaches Rich Mezic and Richie Huber said it was a great experience.

“Once in a while you have to learn to lose, and that you have to step up your game, try harder and do better next time,” Huber said. “But they saw that there’s a lot of ideas out there while going around and looking at other teams’ projects, and all roads lead to Rome.”

The FLLASH were last seen at Renaissance Middle School in St. Albans in January for the FLL qualifier, where their robot finished in second place and they received an award for best robot mechanical design.

The FLL competition includes a research project as well as the robot games, both based on a real-world scientific theme. This year’s theme was hydrodynamics, and the students had to research and develop a hypothetical solution to a water-related issue. The goal of the robot game is to complete an automated series of themed tasks on a table-top playing field.

The robot games are scored on a point system, but the research projects are presented to and awarded by judges.

The FLLASH didn’t get an award for their research project at the city finals, but their Lego toilet was “a big star” of the event that everyone wanted to come take pictures of, Mezic said. The idea behind their plastic throne was to conserve water by placing a sink on top of the back of a toilet that drains into the tank and recycles that water for the next flush.

Image courtesy of Rich Mezic

Rich Mezic (back) poses with the emcees of the FLL event. (Photo courtesy of Rich Mezic)

When it came to the FLLASH robot’s performance, Mezic said his team was slightly disappointed. They used light sensors in the programming of the robot to guide it through the course and they made adjustments to the sensors in the weeks leading up to the competition. But since the lighting in the CCNY gym was different from where the team practiced, it affected the way the robot worked and proved to be a learning experience.

“Because of different conditions, there’s a lot of variables and there’s a lesson in that,” Mezic said. “That’s the real world: it doesn’t always work the way you planned.”

For Mezic, who works for National Grid, and Huber, who works for Superior Interlock, this volunteer coaching experience is rewarding in many ways, they said. When they succeed as they did in January, they get to see their team have pride in their achievements. When they lose, Mezic and Huber get to instill important lessons in their young competitors.

Since there were no eighth-grade students on the team this year, the whole team will have the opportunity to come back next year with the experience they gained if they choose to. But they are just kids having fun after all, and that’s what Huber enjoys the most.

One of the things we try to instill in them is working together,” Huber said. “Most of them have been together since kindergarten, but some have become even better friends because of this, so that’s a win right there, too.”

Rich Mezic (left) and Richie Huber (right) pose with the Lego trophies. Photo courtesy of Rich Mezic.

Rich Mezic (left) and Richie Huber (right) pose with the Lego trophies. (Photo courtesy of Rich Mezic)




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