Turning kids loose

Published 9:40 pm Tuesday, April 20, 2010

On the long list of stuff I don’t know the first thing about would be robotics and sailing. But it doesn’t take any actual knowledge of either subject to see the importance of the young, but already title-winning, robotics team at Nansemond River or the brand new sailing team at Nansemond-Suffolk.

Both teams are perfect examples of what kids are capable of with their creativity and energy, and just a little help.

Sailing is clearly a sport, and robotics — well, Nansemond River’s robot played soccer. Honestly though, the robotics competition was all about “competition,” and competing is a central element of what sports is all about.

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More than that, both robotics and sailing form a uniquely educational link between the competitive world of sports and the problem-solving world of math, technology and science.

The talents of everyone in the group must come together for one robot or in one boat. Seeing the individual talents, and the individual talents put together behind one goal, must be even more exciting for the coaches, mentors and parents than however a competition turns out.

That’s not to take anything away from all the titles, and from getting to travel to Atlanta and be in a worldwide tournament in the Georgia Dome. Those lessons and memories, even if a part of something that is simply for fun and not having anything to do with math or science, will be lifelong ones.

Even though Nansemond River did exceptionally well in its robotics competition — and that was with a short amount of time and a small amount of resources in the club’s first year — there had to be issues along the way. There were probably even a couple mistakes in the Georgia Dome. Perhaps some could simply be pinned on the robot.

NSA’s first sailing practice also didn’t go perfectly, according Tracy Agnew’s story. “Two boats capsized, one went aground and one hit the deck,” head coach Kollette Hillard said.

Keeping your head about you, especially on the spur of the moment, is a great lesson coming from competition. What’s the response after throwing an interception? Giving up a home run? Scoring a snowman on the first hole?

Coach Hillard at NSA and coach Dawn Rountree at Nansemond River, gave up their extra time — time that probably didn’t really exist anyway — to make the teams come together. They deserve lots of thanks.

Nansemond River’s looking for financial help to catch up for this year’s expenses (going all the way to the world championships and Atlanta was a big surprise) and make the team viable for years into the future. Nansemond River’s first team proved how good they are, but the biggest selling point for continuing the club seems to be what was learned aside from winning or losing.