It was December 2014 when I gotten an email from FIRST asking me if I would like be an emcee during the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) World Festival 2015. I have presented many FLL finales during my career so I immediately saw this as a unique opportunity. How cool is it to present for teams from all over the world.
Of course I needed to discuss it with my colleagues but after this I could say YES. I was going to emcee together with 3 other emcees namely Wynonah Dove from Australia. She works for FIRST Australia and organizes FLL in Australia. The second emcee was Nicole Adewale from St. Louis. If you already went to the World Festival before you know who I am talking about. She is presenting the World Festival for over 4 years already and it was an honor to work with her. Fourth but not least I worked with Kenny Meesters. Maybe the best know FLL volunteer and ambassador in the Netherlands.
After a period of preparations, a couple of conference calls and of course our own FLL Benelux final it became April and I went on my way to St. Louis. The FLL World Festival is part of the FIRST Championship. During the Championship four international FIRST finals take place. These are Junior FIRST LEGO League (Jr.FLL), FIRST LEGO League, FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) and the big robots from FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). The championship has grown so big nowadays that FTC and Jr.FLL are in a new location, namely Union Station. FLL and FRC are, like last year, still in the Edward Jones Dome and the America’s Center. It is a huge American Football stadium from the St. Louis Rams and the attached conference center and exhibition halls.
Before I start my report of the festival I would like to explain a little more about the championship. Did you know that over 20.000 children in the age of 6 till 18 participate in one of the four programs? These kids form 900 teams from 39 different countries. The biggest diversity of nationalities are represented in FLL. The FLL programs takes place in more than 80 different countries. Did you also know that in all of these countries 25.000 teams and 200.000 children all work on the same theme every year. I am so proud that I am a part of this community. From the Netherlands 2 teams participated in the FLL World Championship. They were team sCOOL Br1iacs from the Telgenborg, Almelo and team Wizard of Code from the Maerlant Lyceum, The Hague. In the FTC competition we had team Tulip from the Newman College, Breda and in FRC we had Team Rembrandts from Eindhoven. The orange color was well represented.
The days flew by. On Wednesday we had the technical walk-through. They were still setting up the AV equipment in the America’s Center but I got a pretty good idea of the spectacle. Especially when they opened the doors at eleven o’clock and 108 teams from all over the world walked in to set up there pit area. In an instant the empty Pit transformed in a rainbow of colors. Children were building gazebos and stands. I saw children fill balloons and in every pit the national flag was the center piece. Maybe the best part were children walking around and swopping team buttons, showing of their dance or just meet other teams. It is an awesome sight to see all the nationalities in one room together. Just playing and dancing together. It promised to be a couple of beautiful days. It they did!
Opening Ceremony Wednesday
My first performances was planned for that evening in Union Station. We would have a mutual FLL and FTC opening. Ray Hsu from National Instruments first welcomed all the kids and afterwards 6 teams had the opportunity to introduce themselves with a sketch or dance. We saw karate from Japan and a friendship dance from an American team. Another highlight of the evening was a traditional dance called the Marinera from team Kondortech from Peru. This way teams got a touch of international culture. Time flew by and before we knew, the opening was finished and all teams headed back to their hotel.
Practice and Judging Thursday
Thursday is day that we have the practice rounds for robot performance and the official judging sessions for Project, Core Values and Robot Design. Sadly I could not see any of the presentations because I had to emcee. My colleague Susan was judge and what I understand from her it was a blast to be a judge and see the presentations. The Robot Game schedule for Thursday is identical to the schedule for Friday. They do this so that everybody, teams, referees and volunteers, can get used to the tight schedule and hopefully teams will get less nervous for Friday. Because then it is really Game On. It is also nice for us emcees, referees and fieldresetters because we get better attuned to another. So at the end of the day we were ready for the real work on Friday.
Game on Friday
And Game on it was! What a sportsmanship, what a competition. 324 games took place in total. Every 5 minutes a match was being played simultaneously on 8 FLL tables. The top 8 scores would advance to the Saturday morning Encore Robot Games. These were the quarter finals so it really counted to end high. It went well with the Dutch FLL teams. Both teams ended up in the middle. A really good result, especially when you realize that you ended up 50th of 25.000 teams from all over the world. This is something to be proud of.
As mentioned before, Saturday started with the Encore Robot Games mixed up with Project presentations. The morning would end with the medal distribution. Between the quarter, semis and finals we saw the crème de la crème of the Project solutions. This was cool to watch because this way we and the audience could see the 8 brilliant presentations. The project is maybe the most important part of FLL. Teams learn to cooperate together as well as find solutions for problems they found after doing research. They need to share, test and possible redesign their solutions through interviews and presentations. Basically they learn all the skills you need to be successful in modern day life and work. Add the excitement and Core Values and you are prepared for your future as a professional.
The finale was between team Robopro from Israel and team Fast & Curious from Lebanon. In the end team Lebanon won the final. Well done! The morning ended with the medal distribution. Every team member got the official FLL World Festival Medal. I think this medal now proudly hangs in every participant’s room.
That afternoon the moment we have all been waiting for was finally there. It was time for the Award Ceremony. Will I get a price? Which place did I end up? Will I become World Champion? To become world champion you need to score best on all 3 parts of FLL (Project, Core Values and Robot design) and your robot score is in the top 40%. So you need to have what it takes to become the best of them all! How cool is that!
The award ceremony needed to be academy award worthy so Kenny, Wynonah, Nicole and I put on our best suite! Just look at the pictures to see for yourself. We presented 43 awards. Team sCOOL Br1iacs won the Judges Award. This is a fantastic result. We did not present the Champion’s Award this afternoon. We only said which teams were in the top 3. The winner would be announced that evening during the official FIRST Championship Closing Ceremony. The top 3 teams were Fast & Curious from Lebanon, Mechatronic Ants from Spain and team HIPPIES from the United States of America.
The winner came from Lebanon and was team Fast & Curious. An awesome result for a team who were runner up in 2014. And with this my FLL World Festival came to an end. The day after I sadly had to catch my flight back home. The event, the children and the experience will always stay with me. If you get the change to go to the World Festival or to one of the other FLL Championships somewhere in the world… GO!!! I assure you, it will become a moment you will never forget and you will not be disappointed. So share your time and muscles. The organization is always looking for volunteers and they need your help. Do not be afraid or think you lack the experience. They can use everybody and that is the power of FLL. Without volunteers sharing their precious time the program could not exist.