FAIRMONT — In a show of pomp and pageantry worthy of the Olympics, student teams from North, Central and South America converged on the Falcon Center Friday night at Fairmont State University for opening ceremonies for the FIRST LEGO League Mountain State Invitational Robotics Tournament.
Music boomed and people cheered as teams from as far away as Uruguay and as near as West Virginia marched to the front of the gym as their names were called out for the “Parade of Teams.” The sound of applause and even a cow bell clanging filled the room as the celebration kicked off a weekend of fun and competition.
Prior to the parade of teams, members from several teams joined together for an elaborate dance as they moved in unison to the music. With smiles on their faces, they displayed their dance moves for all to see.
“We have 62 teams coming from 10 foreign countries and from throughout the United States, from Florida all the way to Alaska, and, of course, obviously from West Virginia,” said Mirta Martin, Fairmont State University president. She said five teams from the Mountain State were participating.
“This is phenomenal,” she said. “This is exactly what any university and every university should be doing, and I’m very proud to say that Fairmont State University has welcomed the World Robotics Olympics to the city of Fairmont and to our university.”
The teams had colorful names like the Brainy Yaks from North Carolina, with all team members wearing yak hats; the Star Lords from Columbia, waving their flags and carrying a banner; the Flaming Unicorns from West Virginia, accompanied by a unicorn mascot; and the Lego Legion from Ohio, dressed like mighty Roman centurions. One team of four students, The Moosebots, came all the way from Moose Pass, Alaska, on the Kenai Peninsula. Their robot is the Moosebot.
The team members ranged in age from 12 to 14 years old, and it took 16 hours on the plane to get to West Virginia.
One of their coaches, Wendy Bryden, said the children won a competition in Fairbanks, Alaska which allowed them to come to West Virginia for Mountain State Invitational. She said Alaska sends three teams outside the state, and they were one of the three teams.
“We’re so excited,” she said of the trip to West Virginia. “It’s been an amazing opportunity for us.”
While in West Virginia, she said the team went rafting on the Cheat River. They also saw something that was a rarity for them: thunder and lightning.
“One thing that’s kind of cool for them is thunder and lightning storms,” she’s said. She said they don’t have thunder and lightning in the part of Alaska where they live because it’s too cool there.
“This is super hot for them,” she said. “When we get to upper 70’s, we’re too hot.”
She said the upper 70’s there is a typical hot summer day where they live in Alaska.
For their project at the competition in West Virginia, they chose to make “Space Teddy Bears.”
Their teddy bears, which are meant to solve the problem of “loneliness in space” for astronauts, are sterile. According to Bryden, NASA doesn’t permit teddy bears in space because of germs.
To make the teddy bears sterile, they made them out of hospital materials and used an autoclave to sterilize them. They used different materials for the teddy bears, including hospital gowns as “skin,” cotton scraps and Poly-Fil options for stuffing and embroidery for the teddy bears’ faces, according to the team’s brochure.
The trip to West Virginia was somewhat of a homecoming for Bryden, who graduated from Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
Fairmont Mayor Brad Merrifield welcomed all the teams to the city.
“I think it’s amazing,” he said of the event. “It just goes to show you there’s already a lot going on in Fairmont that we don’t even know about, and we could do so much more. These kids will probably never forget this, a lot of them.”
He was impressed by the diversity of countries represented.
“This is what you call inclusion, right?”