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Robotics team, Say Watt!?!, takes FIRST LEGO awards in California

MADISON – Their skill and ingenuity led to awards, not their catchy team name (even though it’s a winner, too). The Say Watt!?! robotics team with Madison City Schools students claimed awards at a tournament in California.

Say Watt!?! won the prestigious Finalist Championship award at the 2024 FIRST LEGO League, Western Edge Invitational in Long Beach, Calif. The team also earned a runner-up alliance award and a third place runner-up for champion finalist — the only U.S. team to rank.

FIRST LEGO League introduces STEM learning to children with interesting challenges and competitions using LEGO curriculum.

The team and adult staff view their performance as “a triumphant celebration of innovation and collaboration. This dynamic team of seven MCS students, ranging from fifth to seventh grade, showcased their ingenuity and teamwork amid fierce competition from around the globe,” Coach John Holcombe said.

“The three-day event in Long Beach saw the Say Watt!?! team dazzling judges and spectators with their robot’s precision maneuvers, strategic planning and innovative designs,” Holcombe said. “Their exceptional creativity and technical skills earned them a well-deserved spot among the top contenders.”

Say Watt!?! team members are Discovery Middle School students Charli Cook, 13, Cathy Liao, 13 and Carter Pettigrew, 12; Journey Middle School students Liam Acker, 12 and Maddox Acker, 13; and Columbia Elementary School students Tyler Pysh, 11 and Rhylan Holcombe, 11.

The leaders included coaches Justin Cook, Brianne Holcombe and John Holcombe, along with team parent Stefanie Cook.

This year’s FIRST LEGO League theme, “#MASTERPIECE,” challenged teams to reimagine the way that art is created and communicated through STEM. Say Watt!?! met the challenge by exploring a local educational issue: the lack of engaging materials for fourth-grade Alabama history lessons.

“The team developed a virtual escape room using augmented reality, where students solve history puzzles to escape. Over 200 teachers and students from MCS participated in the development of this innovative prototype,” John Holcombe said.

Receiving the Finalist Championship award “is a testament to the team’s ability to excel across various categories — from robot performance to innovative project development and embodying the FIRST core values throughout the season,” Holcombe said.

“We couldn’t be prouder of Say Watt!?!,” Brianne Holcombe said. “Their dedication, teamwork and innovative spirit are truly commendable. They’ve not only represented our community with distinction but have also inspired countless others to pursue their passion for STEM.”

Team member Charli Cook never felt more accomplished “than when they called our team out for a Champion Finalist award. It’s a feeling I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I’m just so thankful I had this opportunity to work with my team and accomplish what we thought was impossible.”

Maddox Acker, another team member, said the season was so much fun “and came with so many challenges and events. One of the hardest things I learned was how to code in Python and the syntax. This season really gave us some life lessons. It was the best season of all time.”

“As they return home with the Finalist Championship title, the members of Say Watt!?! are grateful for the unwavering support of their families, schools, mentors and sponsors. Their achievement serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration for aspiring young engineers and innovators across Madison,” John Holcombe said.

With their sights set on future challenges, Say Watt!?! will continue to make waves in the world of robotics, leaving a lasting mark on the global stage. “Congratulations to Say Watt!?! on their remarkable achievement and may their journey be filled with continued success, innovation and boundless possibilities,” Holcombe said.

Generous sponsors that provided financial support include SIMTECH; Tennessee Valley Robotics; Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International or AUVSI, Pathfinder Chapter; and team parents.

For more information, visit firstlegoleague.org.

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