Awards announced for FIRST LEGO League State Championship, retiring Grand Forks coach honored

Feb. 15—GRAND FORKS — When Joe Hogberg's name was announced Saturday at the FIRST LEGO League State Championship, members of "Lego Geeks: Chef Edition" — the LEGO robotics team he has coached in Grand Forks for 15 years — rushed the stage to celebrate and hug him.

The team's robot may not have taken home any prizes that day, but Hogberg was recognized with the competition's Coach/Mentor Award. With his own kids aging out of FIRST LEGO robotics, Hogberg decided this year would be his final year as coach.

That made the honor that much more special to him, he said.

"I was surprised," he said.

FIRST LEGO League, a LEGO robotics competition for students aged 4-6, 6-10 and 9-16, aims to introduce STEM concepts to children through hands-on learning. In this year's state championship, teams were challenged to create a LEGO robot that could complete multiple missions on a set game board, such as pushing and pulling objects, or lifting things and delivering them to another area on the board.

Teams also receive a theme to use as inspiration for a project — this year's theme was "masterpiece."

"LEGO Geeks: Chef Edition," explored the theme through the art of cooking. The team made an app that would look at a picture of food and provide substitute ingredients to accommodate for allergies, as well as cultural variations of that food across the world.

Although the team didn't place, Hogberg said the kids still had fun and stayed positive.

Hogberg became a coach when he was a UND student 15 years ago, and his children were still years away from being old enough to participate in the FIRST LEGO League.

Still, he knew he wanted his kids to have a chance to participate in it, and became a coach to make sure it stuck around long enough for them to take part. Now that his children are 14 and 17, they've both aged out of the program, and Hogberg is ready to step away.

"It's a lot of work, but then you kind of miss it," he said. "Fifteen years is enough."

LEGO leagues and other robotics leagues have gained popularity in public school districts in recent years. "LEGO Geeks: Chef Edition" is one of multiple teams from the region to compete in the state championship: "6-Brix," of Rugby, North Dakota, was the first runner up for the Champion's Award, and "Legobusters," of Grand Forks, earned first place in the Robot Design Awards category. Grand Forks teams "Perseverance Puppies" and "Creative Grizzlies" also competed.

Brendan Gilmore, "Legobusters" coach, explained the Robot Design Award is given to teams in recognition of their ability to show the process of their robot and project for that year's theme. Legobusters' project involved creating an app to "gamify" music practice for musicians. Gilmore said the kids on the team, three of whom are returning members, were excited to get a first place award at a state competition.

"It was phenomenal," he said.