LAKE WYLIE -- Anyone expecting robots to swoop in and save Lake Wylie from sediment problems may be dreaming. Assemble an experienced team of robot-builders, though, and taking on the task seems far less crazy.
In fact, the Cyclones from Clover Junior High School know a little something of tackling problems. Building machines through the LEGO robotics program, the seven-member Carolina Cyclones team qualified Dec. 13 to compete in the state championships Saturday in Clemson. Also competing is the other CJHS team, the Elements, five teams from Crowders Creek Middle School and two from Clover Middle School.
While operated robots performing tasks atop tables highlight competition days, that portion only counts for 25 percent of the total team score. The remaining points come from, along with team participation, a research project on the annual theme and the technical presentation of their work. The theme this year is climate change, leaving the Cyclones with one obvious choice for their research.
"These guys chose their local issue, Lake Wylie," said Tom Ogle, parent volunteer with the Cyclones. "I think the kids' goal is the get the word out."
Specifically, the Cyclones chose lake erosion and sediment, how it enters the water and how big of a problem it is.
"About how the lake is being polluted and how we can be protecting it," said team member Adam Kingswood. "We want the lake to be there for as long as it should be."
The team interviewed Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation Executive Director Rick Gaskins, among others, for the project. The group even filmed a news-style video at the lake, with plans to partner with the foundation to post the video on catawbariverkeeper.org.
The team also created an information piece with pictures and answers to questions like, "What is sediment?" and "What solutions are there?" It even includes a phone number to report runoff violations.
"All companies do brochures," said team member Quinn Hernandez. "It can contain a lot of information on a single page."
As with many climate and environmental issues, the Cyclones found solving sediment control problems is not an easy task. In fact, it is not simply one problem at all.
"We found that construction sites if they don't have their silt fences done correctly, can be the biggest problem," Hernandez said. "Rain itself is causing it somewhat."
The group, Kingswood said, still has "some perfecting to do" before Saturday, but past success bodes well for the upcoming competition. At the December qualifier, located just next door at Clover High School, the team of seventh and eighth graders scored 396 out of a possible 400 points on the table event. Two years ago, a team featuring many of the same members finished third in the state.
"The robot part is important, but that only counts for 25 percent," Ogle said. "We realized that we need to focus just as much or more on the research end. If we knew then what we know now, we probably would have finished first."
Competition Saturday should be stiff. Only 80 teams qualified from the state. Only one winner advances to the national competition. Still, the Cyclones are confident in the work done the entire school year, often including weekend work.
"Tom, as a parent, has sacrificed a lot of his time not just this year, but the past couple of years," said school principal Mark Hopkins.
Nigel Kingswood, parent volunteer with the team and tournament director for the Clover qualifier, believes the time put in by the Cyclones, as well as other teams in Clover and statewide, will pay off Saturday.
"All the schools have competitions for sports," he said. "Not a lot of schools have competitions for the sciences."
While the team will not entirely fix the problem of sediment in Lake Wylie, they hope to provide information that helps make people become aware of the problems. After all, their robots teach them nothing if not that lesson--that the first step in solving a problem is knowing what needs to be solved.