For Immediate Release

The atmosphere is electric in most of the elementary and middle schools across western North Carolina. Seven school systems have collaborated on the formation of 48 rookie FIRST Lego League robotics teams. The schools in Swain, Macon, Jackson, Cherokee, Graham and Clay Counties along with the schools at Cherokee Central are buzzing with activity.

During the first week in January, SMART (Smoky Mountain Area Robotics Teams) kicked off the rookie season for these teams. The teams were given a mat filled with 11 challenging robot missions. The teams were armed with over 1200 Lego parts and pieces, a robot brain and a variety of sensors. Teams were challenged to develop a game strategy to score as many points as possible by having their robots complete as many missions as possible in 2 ½ minutes. Then they envisioned the robot design that would allow them to complete those missions. They develop a program that allows the robot to autonomously move around the board completing the missions. For 8 weeks they were constantly testing and refining their robot and program.

During the past 2 weeks the teams have started competing in robot scrimmages to see how their robot performs in competition. Competition tends to cause teams to refine both their robot design and programs.

During the next round of scrimmages that begin in mid-March, team will be judged in 3 additional areas: Robot Design, Research Project and FIRST Lego League Core Values. The team coaches and mentors are not allowed in the judging sessions. Each team will have 5 minutes to present the unique aspects of their robot design. The judges will have 5 minutes to ask the team questions. They also complete a research project that causes them to identify a problem or opportunity related to this year’s theme: Trash Trek (recycling). They review the research on what has been done in their chosen area and propose how they would solve the problem. Lastly they are judged on FIRST Lego League Core Values. The Core Values focus on teamwork and creating a high functioning team.

The season will culminate on Saturday April 2nd in the Arena at Cherokee Central High School. All 48 teams will be competing for honors in all 4 areas of competition. The team with the best overall performance in both the judging sessions and robotics competition will be named the SMART Regional Champion

“My first exposure to FIRST Lego League was being the event manager for the FIRST Lego League State Championship. I was astounded. We had over 3,000 people the day of the event in the Greensboro Coliseum Annex. The cheering, screaming and yelling reminded me of the atmosphere you would expect at a state basketball tournament,” Commented Sam McCormick of Must-Innov8, Inc. Must-Innov8 was a catalyst for implementing this program broadly across school systems.

Phil Drake, President of Drake Enterprises, observed, “I got involved because I saw how competitive robotics causes kids to be excited about learning science, technology, engineering and math. They are applying what they have learned in the classroom to solve real world problems. They are so busy having fun with their robot they have no idea how much they are learning.”

“Our school systems would not be able to launch a program of this complexity without the leadership, volunteers and financial support supplied by our business partners,” Dr. Chris Baldwin, Superintendent of Macon County Schools shared.

“Please join us April 2nd in the Arena at Cherokee Central High School. The kids have worked very hard on this and it would mean a lot to them if there was a large crowd to cheer them on,” added Dr. Scott Penland, Superintendent of Cherokee Central Schools. “The robotics competition begins at 2 PM.”


Press Material


SMART website:

For additional information contact:

Yona Wade

Dr. Chris Baldwin, Macon County Schools

Phil Drake, Drake Enterprises

Dr. Scott Penland, Cherokee Central Schools

Sam McCormick, Must-Innov8, Inc.