SPARTA, NJ – The gymnasium at Sparta Middle School was swarming with robots last weekend.  Sixteen elementary and middle school FIRST Lego League robotics teams were competing at the event hosted by Sparta Helen Morgan School FLL teams and sponsored by Aperture, Newton High School’s FIRST robotics team.

Two teams of Helen Morgan students competed at the event.

One team, Robotics 5 was comprised of five fifth grade boys who were “all friends and decided to join up and work together,” David Trela said.  “We heard the announcement at school. We started to do some work on the mission.  At first it was a struggle but then it got easier.”

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“The key is to work together, stay focused and have fun,” David’s brother Matt Trela said.

The other members of the team were Asher Orkikowski, Thomas Strouse, “aka Awesome” and John Facer.

The other Helen Morgan team was named the Fabulous Baker Boys and was comprised of eight busy boys.

Helen Morgan Principal Doug Layman worked with the Newton team, coordinating the Sparta side of the arrangements.  The Sparta FLL team sold refreshments for the large crowd of 160 students and their families gathered at the school for much of the day.

As with all levels of FIRST robotics competitions, there is a theme.  For the young competitors this year the theme was Hydrodynamics. In addition to the table top competitions where the robots perform tasks, the team members have to present to three different panels of judges.

The three categories on which they are evaluated are Core Values, The Project and The Robot.  Using a rubric, the judges score the teams in a number of subcategories.

The Head Judges were Mike Drelich and Kaitlyn Hoffman.  The Floor judges were Tom McNulty, Harvey Fein and Lisa Holder.

In Core Values they are looking for an explanation of their Inspiration, teamwork and “gracious professionalism.”  The Core Values judges were Stacey Yauch and Rich Holder.

“We are looking for team spirit and integrity, how they work together and problem solve,” one of the judges said.

The Project judges are looking for the process the students used to develop their robot, within the theme and to address the table top challenge.  They are scored in Research, Innovative Solution and Presentation. 

The Project judges were Roger Kent and Hoffman

“How well they followed the rules and are able to express themselves within the allowed time,” a judge said.

Each of the sections of the competition is timed, from table top challenge to presenting to the judges.

As for The Robot category the students have to “give a presentation on design progress and missions,” a judge said. They are evaluated on the Mechanical Design, Programming and Strategy and Innovation.

The Robot judges were Wayne Levante, Drelich and Gordon Powers.

“There were a couple of teams that stood out,” one judge said, though would not reveal which they were.  The extent to which they researched and developed their project was noteworthy to the judges.

“Some were pretty creative in how they presented as well,” another judge said explaining there were many ways teams could excel.

The head Referee was Ed Flynn and event emcee was Liam Oakes.  The table top competitions were run by the students from Aperture. 

The Aperture team is sponsored by Thor Labs, Mira Plastics and Picatinny Arsenal.  They also supported the competition at the middle school.   Aperture’s Coach and middle school STEM teacher Jim Hofmann extended thanks to all involved in making the day possible.   

"What a fantastic fun-filled day of positive energy we all enjoyed today, Hofmann said. "I want to thank everyone who supported our efforts in the build-up towards this Sparta FLL Qualifier event."