What’s really cool about being a small town reporter is that I get to check out cool programs geared toward our youth. Then I usually make Evan be a guinea pig for them, but those days are fading fast.
You see, my soon-to-be-15-year-old is now a freshman at Miami East High School. This was his last year of First LEGO League (FLL) and being on a team sponsored by the WACO Historical Society’s Learning Center.
Years ago, I remember when I was invited to do a story on Troy Christian’s FLL team. The kids had a blast programming a robot to complete missions and coming up with an invention to fit the theme of the year. My kid liked LEGO, so I thought it’d be a natural fit.
Years later, I read a press release from the WACO Historical Society’s Learning Center who was hosting a FLL coaching clinic. I honestly thought I’d just show up, learn a little bit more about it and sign Evan up. Unbeknownst to me, they were starting the FLL program and were looking for volunteers to coach.
So five years ago, I took on my first-ever coaching gig when I was invited to coach a team. Evan and three other young boys were soon helping me navigate our first-ever season of FLL. I was immediately amazed how quickly these young kids, age 9 and up, picked up the robot kit, a handful of LEGO and got to work.
We survived that first year, although we didn’t advance to the next level. Our team gave it their best shot. You see, that’s what I liked the most about the FLL program — the kids do all the work. Coaches are there to guide and sadly, like in most youth activities, you can see who follows that practice and who doesn’t. I still couldn’t tell you how to program a robot, but I’m old. It makes me feel like when I used to help my parents program the VCR. I’m now in their shoes.
This year was probably my favorite season. After five years, the learning curve was now gone and the kids, most of whom returned from years prior, knew what to expect. We kept our team small and welcomed a rookie named Cayden, who loved every minute of it.
This year, the team changed their name to the Waco Taco Supreme — five teenage boys, after all. Coach Carrie found the team “taco hats” at a local party store, which set the fun tone we had all year. We were that team with the taco hats. We drew a lot of attention, which was fun. The tournament referee, after all, wears a giant unicorn on his head.
While the atmosphere at competition can be stressful, the Waco Taco Supreme embraced the true spirit of FLL by starting the wave while waiting in line for opening ceremonies. We were also that team that spelled out “W-A-C-O -T-A-C-O” during the robot competition. But what I’m most proud of and what people didn’t get to see, was we also were the team that helped clean up, stack chairs and picked up trash long after most of the teams left.
And no one was more stunned than us coaches that we advanced to the regionals at Wright State this month. We all looked at each other and said, “Did they just say our team’s name?” but the kids jumped up and were excited to advance.
Sadly, due to the snow, we weren’t able to compete in the robot game since the campus closed. But we were very proud of how the season ended — with fun, laughter and all-around joy throughout the entire season.
The WACO Historical Society is in the middle of building its $1.8 million Learning Center, which will be home to activities such as FLL. I’m very excited to see this addition to our community. WACO’s founder Clayton Brukner was an innovator, an engineer and could often be found tinkering in his shop on a variety of inventions. Trying and failing, working backward to find that mistake, but never giving up until it was right. That’s what the kids do each season in FLL.
If Brukner were alive today, I know he’d be proud to know that students of all ages in the FLL and FTC programs will use these building blocks of trial and error — which served him well in his lifetime — in their own endeavors.
Thank you to all of those at WACO Historical Society and the generous donors, such as Pat and Thom Robinson, for investing in today’s children through these awesome programs here in our community. If you want to invest in the future, volunteer as a FLL coach or donate to the learning center’s project. It’ll be time and money well-spent.
Reach Melanie Yingst at firstname.lastname@example.org