April 10-12, 2003: FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) held its annual national championship event at Reliant Park in Houston, Texas. This “Super Bowl of Smarts” was so large that it required Reliant Stadium and the Astrodome to hold the entire event.
General Chuck Yeager was the Guest of Honor and Guest Speaker for the event, receiving several standing ovations from the thousands of kids who were there to compete.
He spoke to the attendees along with Texas Governor Rick Perry. Wayne Kinsey (President of Benchmark Research & Technology) was the National Committee Chairman for the event.
The FIRST competitors and their mentors start with a box of various items, and an assignment to build a robot to perform certain tasks and compete against other teams.
The FIRST competitors in attendance at this event had worked their way up through a series of regional and national, contests. At these Finals, the teams were to compete against each other by using their robots to stack boxes, knock their competition’s boxes down, and then end up on top of a ramp before the allotted time ran out.
When Gen. Yeager spoke to the competitors, he said, “I don´t see why you don´t just put bombs on these robots and just blow the competition out of the water”.
This remark did not seem to please the MIT announcer (in tuxedo and sneakers, with beard and long pony-tail). Governor Perry managed a tense laugh.
But the kids ALL stood up and CHEERED!! Gen. Yeager got FIVE standing ovations from these students during the 15 minutes he spoke. Everybody was reminded by this, that the whole purpose is to encourage kids to major in science, as our country is sorely lacking in this area.
FIRST is a non-profit organization founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, renowned inventor of the Segway Human Transporter. Teams come from Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, Israel, Mexico, the U.K., and almost every US state. The competitions are high-tech spectator sporting events, the result of lots of focused brainstorming, real-world teamwork, and dedicated mentoring.
The program is a life-changing, career-molding experience as well as a lot of fun.