Three weeks ago, my oldest son Ian uttered these words: "We didn't win a trophy but that's OK. We had fun."
These words came just a short time after Ian's FIRST LEGO League team, the Banana Bricks, competed in their first state competition. The team did not fare well that day, scoring poorly in their interviews and being vexed by robot probems in their four matches.
At one point, I offered a challenge to shave my head if they could get the robot to complete aseries of missions. They did and I have since been true to my word.
This past Saturday, the Banana Bricks competed in the state qualifier against nearly 50 teams from around the state of Michigan. Their mood was upbeat and the nervousness that affected all of us three weeks ago was absent.
Only 13 teams would advance to the state championship next month and one team would emerge from that tournament to compete for the world championship in St. Louis next year. To think the Banana Bricks could end up among the elite FLL teams was pretty exciting, but deep down I knew reality would come into play and my young team would need more time to grow and mature before they could compete with the best in the state, country and world.
That said, I witnessed a desire among the Banana Bricks team members I did not see three weeks ago. There was a determination to succeed and it was evident in the valiant efforts to get the robot to run some tough missions.
It was also evident during the interviews, in which the team talked about the FLL core values, how and why they built and programmed their robot to run certain missions and how they researched and resolved a challenge based on the FLL theme of the year.
At the practice tournament last month, the team members were trying to find their footing, battling nerves and absorbing the craziness known as FLL. It was a desire to make it through the day that motivated the team, along with a desire to see their coach shave his head.
In just three weeks, the team had matured to a point where they could have fun while staying focused on the tasks at hand. I was able to relax, confident they would do their best, no matter what challenges awaited them during the robot missions and interviews.
It was a different story in the interviews, where the team members improved their scores in all three areas. From core values, where the team talked about how they enjoyed working with other teams, to the technical review, where they demonstrated their robot, to the project, where the discussed their research on the meat industry, the team impressed the judges.
While their final scores were not enough to move then into contention for a spot in the state championship tournament that didn't seem to sap the team's excitement. In fact, the team members, while tired after 8 hours at the event, were just happy to be there.
The mood changed dramatically at the end of the day as the Banana Bricks sat on the gym floor to high five teams that won various tournament categories. I stood near a wall, talking with a coach from a Flint school that was competing in the event.
Suddenly, the Banana Bricks jumped to their feet, screaming and running toward the center of the gym. The tournament director had just announced the Banana Bricks and three other teams that shared a "pod" in the pit area where they practiced and worked on their robots had beaten all the other teams in a pod challenge.
The Flint coach and I screamed and hugged each other before dashing to join the kids as they circled around the gym, getting high fives from the volunteers who made the event possible.
I had to fight back tears as I ran around the gym. I'm not prone to crying but I was so happy for the kids. Moments before they claimed what appeared to be the largest and heaviest trophy of the tournament they appeared content with their performance that day.
Winning the pod challenge put them over the top.
For Ian the moment was thrilling, but as we drove home, he reiterated what he said three weeks ago. In short, he said winning a trophy was not that important. It was about having fun with your team and demonstrating gracious professionalis toward your opponents.
I couldn't agree more.