Lego League flourishes through 4-H

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 September 2013 at 12:00 am

After debuting last year, county now has 3 teams

Photos by Tom Rivers – Members of the First Lego League work on their Lego robot Monday. The 4-H youths include, from left: Maxim Rambach of Medina, Deegan Bragg of Medina, Zach Moore of Albion, Daniel Squire of Medina and Jayden Neal of Albion. Three Lego teams practice at Liberty Fresh Farms in Albion, the home of the former Remley Printing Company.

ALBION – Monday was a glorious day for a group of 4-H’ers. A new Lego robot kit arrived for a team of Lego builders.

Tiny plastic pieces were then carefully set in rows and piles. The 4-H’ers then began the task of turning the parts into a robot that could be programmed to move pieces and conquer obstacles.

The 4-H program last year launched a First Lego League team. There were 13 kids on the team last year. The Lego League has grown in popularity with 26 members, ages 8 to 14 this year. They are split into three teams.

Zach Moore, 12, of Albion is a returning member. He spent part of Monday’s Lego meeting putting tank treads on the Lego robot “so it can climb over things,” Zach said.

Zach is active in 4-H and shows animals at the 4-H Fair. He prefers working with the Legos.

“I’ve always liked building things,” he said.

One of the Lego teams opened a new robot kit on Monday, which caused great excitement. That team is led by coaches Jason Foote, left, and Michael Beach, who both have sons in the program.

The 4-H Lego Club draws members from throughout the county. Zach said he made many new friends last year in the Lego Club’s debut season. This year incudes 12 returning players, and 14 newcomers, which is fine with Zach.

“Hopefully I’ll make more friends this year,” he said.

The Lego Club was going to practice and have meetings at the fairgrounds in Knowlesville. But the growing program outgrew the space.

The Panek family, owners of an onion packing facility on Route 98 in Albion, offered the upstairs of the former Remley Printing Company building for the teams.

The Paneks’ offer is the latest example of generous support for the Lego teams, and also a robotics club that is in its third year, said Erik Seielstad, one of the program’s coaches and mentors.

Xerox in Rochester and Baxter International in Medina are the main sponsors for the teams in Orleans County, but several other businesses are supporting the program. Each Lego team requires about $1,000 for field kits, robots and entry fees. The robotic team, which features 17 high schoolers, needs about $15,000 a year to compete in events.

Albion friends and Lego team members James Michael Beach, left, and Jacob Foote, both 9, look over the pieces of a new Lego kit.

Seielstad provides hands-on supervision of the teams, while his wife Marlene has become an effective fund-raiser for the program.

“She has a vast network for funding,” her husband said.

Mr. Seielstad, a systems engineer in Rochester, is pleased to see the 4-H members so focused during their meetings.

“It’s a good program,” he said. “It gives kids an opportunity to do stuff. The kids drive it and they make it happen.”

The Lego teams meet three times a week in the fall, and then it drops down to once a month in the winter and spring after their main competition later in the fall. The robotics team starts in January.

The Lego teams through FLL are all working with a common theme – Nature’s Fury – this year. They need to research natural disasters and program their robots to respond to the aftermath. That could mean removing a dangling branch after a hurricane ripped through a neighborhood.

Teams are researching sandstorms, floods, tsunamis, earthquakes and other disasters, and they need to have a response plan in place, with the robot moving quickly to complete tasks. The robot may be outfitted with arms or claws to perform some of its missions.

Jason Foote and Mike Beach are co-mentors of one of the teams. Their sons, Jacob Foote and James Michael Beach, are both 9 and they are returning players.

“They’re using Legos to solve real-world problems,” said Mr. Foote, who works as a civil engineer.

James Michael enjoys Legos, and looks forward to the meetings through 4-H.

“It’s still Legos, but they’re taking it to the next step with technology,” said Mr. Beach, a team leader for quality control at CRFS. “You’re trying to get a robot to accomplish something.”