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Kingdom Builders' inaugural LEGO League earns state tournament invite

Jan. 12—BEMIDJI — When Kingdom Builders Christian School's "Rat Pack" clinched an invite to the Minnesota State FIRST LEGO League Tournament, attendees were none the wiser of the school's inaugural team starting its season three months after its competitors.

However, such was the case at a regional tournament on Dec. 15 at the Sanford Center in Bemidji where ingenuity and teamwork were on full display.

"I just kind of sat there, speechless," team member Trystan Houston said upon finding out the news of the team's state invite.

Team member Joseph Hill, whose mom Janee serves as a mentor to the team, had a seemingly opposite response.

"Me and my mom cried," Joseph said. "I cried and I danced."

"It was craziness, tears and lots of excitement," Janee added. "It was great because we were so far behind that we didn't think we would be in the running."

With a program-controlled robot constructed with nothing but Lego bricks, the nine-student team competed in three matches with a goal of completing as many "missions" as possible in a two-and-a-half-minute timeframe.

Taking the highest of their three scores — 210 points — the Rat Pack ended their gameplay in the top five out of 12 teams. With this placement, the team wasn't expecting a state invite initially. Luckily, the game is only one-quarter of a team's overall score.

"It was a little bit of a shock because when we received the scores at the tournament we were tied for fourth place, so we were like 'good job guys, donuts on Tuesday (for the end of the season), let's go home,'" coach Nicole Nordvik said lightheartedly.

During a live award ceremony on Dec. 16, the team learned they would be one of two teams from the tournament to advance to state.

In addition to the game, FIRST LEGO League weighs three other areas including robot design, for which the Rat Pack earned first place.

Teams are also evaluated throughout the tournament for core values — namely teamwork and good sportsmanship — which is another quarter of the team's overall score.

The final portion is an innovation project that allows teams to prepare a live presentation based on a prompt: How can you use technology and the arts to help engage others or increase participation in what you love to do?

The Rat Pack opted to create an animated music video with the objective of encouraging people of all ages to play with Legos. Though the team had only a rough draft of this video prepared for regionals, they scored exceptionally well and plan to add some finishing touches before the state tournament.

"At the end of the video, we're going to put a little phrase: 'You don't stop playing because you grow old,'" Joseph said. "'You grow old because you stop playing.'"

With Kingdom Builders opening in 2022,

Nordvik found it important to offer LEGO League as an opportunity for the student body.

"It was always on my radar because my son wanted to get involved," Nordvik said, "but I didn't know how to get it going."

The school enlisted help from Bemidji High School's Robojacks who offered their support throughout the process of incorporating their team and providing mentorship for coding and design.

By early November, the Rat Pack could begin proper practices with a game mat and other needed materials.

"We met twice a week to make up for lost time," Nordvik mentioned, "and it kind of paid off."

Houston was previously involved in LEGO League at Gene Dillon Elementary, so naturally, he had an interest when Kingdom Builders began offering it.

"When I heard we were going to do LEGO League here, I just jumped at the opportunity," Houston said.

Determining the team's identity — notably the team name — was an important first step when practices began.

"We named ourselves after the music group, and rats are loyal and they'll stick together," Joseph said, "so we went with 'Rat Pack.'"

Such sentiment will prove necessary as the team gears up for the Minnesota State FLL tournament taking place Sunday, Feb. 18, at the St. Paul Rivercentre.

Ambitions are high and the team hopes to perform just as well at state as they did at regionals.

"Nationals would be pretty nice," Houston left off, "as we're able to work together for a clear vision."

To fund their trip, donations can be made directly to the school and on the team's GoFundMe page,

"Rat Pack Robotics Team Heading to State."

More information can be found at

www.firstlegoleague.org.