SHADY HILLS — They came with paper propeller planes, poster board model rockets, scale model houses, balsa wood bridges and carbon dioxide-powered cars. The 55 students from four local schools were eager to show off their newfound skills at the second annual Pasco County Middle School Technology Olympics on Thursday at Crews Lake Middle School.
The friendly competition pitted classmates and, perhaps, designers of the future against one another. Kids like Jessica Georgio and Peyton Austin, both 13. The two seventh-graders from Weightman Middle sought a coveted first place finish in the CO2-powered car races, first during their school competition held earlier and again on Thursday.
"You beat me by three-hundredths of a second this time!" said Jessica, sporting a wide grin as she slapped high fives with Peyton. His green two-tone car hit just over 45 mph down the 20-meter track during time trials.
In the final competition, Jessica would beat Peyton out by roughly the same time, but that didn't matter.
"As long as one of us gets in the top three, we're happy," Peyton said. "We just want to win for our school."
They put in plenty of work during class and often after school — sawing, sanding, drilling and painting. A lot of planning goes into the process, such as whether to place the wheels on the inside or outside of the car frame and how it might affect aerodynamics or handling; whether that extra piece of masking tape on the nose of that rocket will weigh it down.
The goal is to take home a trophy or ribbon and be named a winner for going the fastest, the farthest, or having the strongest, most creative design. But the thrust of the competition is to put into practice the technical skills students have learned in their classrooms, said Bayonet Point Middle technology teacher Bill Hamrick. He organized this year's event with fellow technology teachers Larry O'Hearn (Crews Lake Middle), Danny Webb (Weightman Middle) and Rick Riefffer (Rushe Middle).
"It's amazing what these kids can do — there's a lot of creativity that goes into this," said Hamrick, who hopes to see the annual event grow to include more competitors and schools. "This gives a chance to not only compete against one another, but it gives them a chance to see what it might be like to work in the real world — things like architecture, construction, aerospace and the automobile racing industry."
And there's also simply the fun factor.
"I think it's just a fun thing to do," said Tyler Siedlecki, 14, who was competing for Rushe Middle in the propeller aircraft and CO2-powered car races. "It tests my engineering skills. It gets my imagination going and if I don't get it right, I just keep trying over and over again."
Michele Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.