Robotics teams compete in FIRST LEGO League qualifiers

Team Technical Difficulties from Valencia anticipates the judges ruling during the First Lego League tournament hosted by Project 691 Robotics from West Ranch High School in the schools gym, Nov. 10, 2019. Gilbert Bernal/The Signal

The heat was on as 27 teams came together for the 2019 FIRST LEGO League Qualifying Tournament at West Ranch High School Sunday.

The competition is part of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST, which partnered with LEGO to create an international tournament to get kids, ages 6 to 16, excited about science and technology as they work alongside adults to design, build and program autonomous LEGO MINDSTORMS robots.

Competitions such as this one get teams prepared to compete at the high school level. Each team was challenged with programming their robots to solve a set of missions on themed obstacle courses, coming up with innovative and creative solutions as a team.

The Robotic Nerds team from Pacoima Charter School, a younger team primarily comprised of fourth and fifth-grade students, has been competing in similar competitions since 2014, and coach Sergio Millan believes they’re important for kids their age.

“It gives them a sense of competitiveness and that competitive spirit that not only is fun, but in the real world, when it comes to STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and they work for some company, it’s like that — it’s competitive,” Millan said. “They need to be top-notch so they can get funding for whatever their project may be.”

Hosted by Project 691 Robotics, a team run and led by students, this event and similar ones, such as the FIRST Robotics Competition, have become a model for other events around the Los Angeles area, according to tournament director Aaron Dolgin.

Members from team “Robo Scorpions” travled from Los Angeles to compete in the First Lego League tournament hosted by Project 691 Robotics from West Ranch High School in the schools gym, Nov. 10, 2019. Gilbert Bernal/The Signal

Dolgin was on the team himself while in high school, and now, while working for Northrop Grumman, has been able to come full circle with his involvement.

“Now I am able to see it from a mentor’s perspective,” he added. “I keep doing this because it’s really enjoyable to see all the students come together and compete.”

Teams from more than 100 countries are set to compete to earn a spot in the FIRST LEGO League World Festivals, which are expected to be held in conjunction with the FIRST (Robotics) Championships in Houston and Detroit in April.

Though this was the first tournament for Lycan Toth, a Shadow Hills Middle School of Engineering and Design student, he and his teammates were extremely excited to participate as they waited their turn in line to compete.

“We’ve been preparing since day one,” Toth said, referring to the beginning of the school year when he joined the Shadow Hills Falconbots 1 robotics team.

The team’s hard work paid off and, with a high score of 365, they had the highest score of the day and took home the tournament’s Champion’s Award as well as the first-place Robot Performance Award.

The team is now expected to advance to the Los Angeles Regional Championship scheduled Dec. 14-15.

For more information on FIRST, visit

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