NEENAH - Dozens of students showed how science can be cool this weekend.
"This is our robot in a game that we play called sack attack," said fifth-grader Grace Hagen of Oconomowoc.
These 23 teams ready their armor and prepare to duke it out in St. Mary's Central's gymnasium.
Meeting in battle, with robots.
"It's like sports! You just get to fight," said one young robotics enthusiast.
"Right here, we have a VEX robot that we've built of different VEX parts that they distribute. Basically, it consists of metal and gear and motors and you put it all together to build a robot to compete on a field in a different game each year," said Jace Scheffler, a junior at St. Mary's Central.
Around here, nerd isn't a bad word.
"It looks cool!" said Scheffler. "It just looks awesome."
Coaches say this tournament takes activities that kids already love, and it sparks an interest in what's called STEM areas.
"I like Legos and I thought this was like ultimate Legos," said one excited 11-year-old.
"Science, technology, engineering and math," explains coach and mentor Todd Batzler, an engineer by trade. "We're teaching these kids about levers and beams and practical application of stuff they might not get in science class. They don't even realize they're learning this stuff.
With kids starting these competitions as early as fifth grade, tinkering around with robots might seem like child's play. But, they're learning skills that can help them as adults.
"It'll help with careers and engineering jobs," said one young teammate.
"I think it'll help us be better with people, with teamwork," said Hagen.
"Working in a jet propulsion lab at Lockheed and launching a robot and having it go 47 million miles in 11 months to Mars and having it land itself on a planet is not much different than the skills they're using today. They can be those people," said Batzler.
Win or lose at this tournament, the true mission for these future scientists and engineers remains pretty simple.
"We're just out here having fun playing with robots," said Scheffler.
Winners of today's competition qualify for Nationals in March. Local teams could go on to the world robotics competition in Anaheim later this year.
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Outagamie County's second largest employer is expanding, and veterans are encouraged to apply.
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