OGDEN -- "Let the robot matches begin."
That was how 7-year-old Rhett Douglass opened the robot games at the FIRST LEGO League qualifying competition Saturday at Weber State University.
FIRST is the acronym of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology; the goal is to get kids involved in creating and using technology. Eighteen teams of up to 10 students ages 9-14 competed for seven spots in the state championship tournament on Jan. 28 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
While the anxious competitors were all smiles as they competed in the four categories, perhaps no one enjoyed all the LEGOS more than Rhett, who was a Make-A-Wish Foundation special guest at the event.
"I was nervous because I kind of have stage fright," said Rhett, who suffers from T-cell lymphoma that is in remission. He likely will not be as nervous in March when he, his younger sister and parents go to Legoland in Carlsbad, Calif.
"Make-A-Wish has just given him so many things that brings happiness in his life," said his mother, Christa Douglass.
The robot games were one of four ways teams earned points in the competition. They were also judged on robot design, a project that showed research into a real-world food safety problem and how well they worked as a team during the research and construction.
"A lot of people think this is just about robots, and it's not," said Fran Bradshaw, one of the event managers. "It's really to get kids excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics and getting them to work together as a team."
Team Ares Rovers, from North Layton Junior High School, researched about how watermelons can go bad before being eaten.
"Over the research, we noticed it's often rodents that cause problems to the watermelons," said Cody Turek, 12, of Layton, "although humans can, too."
The seventh-grader said fruits need to be transported correctly so they do not bruise, but also kept away from rodents. So the team came up with a solution that could help keep rodents from contaminating watermelons.
"Rodents eat the roots, so we found that if you put cans in the ground, they don't like the low-frequency sounds put off by the cans so they will move to another farm," Turek said.
While the research was fun, the kids liked the robot games the best.
"You get to build a robot and have fun with the programing," said 10-year-old Chris Williams, a fifth-grader at Eagle Bay Elementary in Farmington and member of the Robotic Chickens.
After spending eight weeks researching the challenges the robots would have to conquer then designing and building the robots, Saturday was a chance to show off the results of that hard work.
"We were worried that all the other teams were going to be better than us," Williams said. "But we got a lot of points, so we did good at programming our robot."