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Grand Island dominates Tech Wars

Remote-controlled robots shoved each other around, and model buildings toppled in seismic splinters.

And there was even a landslide -- Grand Island School District capturing first place for the second year in a row Wednesday during the 14th annual Tech Wars competition at Niagara County Community College.

Students from 24 middle and high schools in Erie, Niagara and Wyoming counties went head to head in 22 technology and engineering challenges, pitting their designs and inventions against each other in an attempt to come out on top.

With 49 points, Grand Island emerged far out front. Lockport City School District was runner-up at 27 points. Williamsville and Tonawanda school districts tied for third place at 22 points.

"This is how the real world works in this field," said Mark Voisinet, professor of engineering at NCCC. "Learning these skills with applied projects is a great benefit. These fields are fulfilling, exciting, and there are great jobs -- lucrative jobs -- without leaving Buffalo."

Grand Island's students were most proud of winning the mousetrap-powered car race, said Mark Nucci, who teaches eighth-grade technology for the district. His team entered seven cars in the event, which determined whose car could travel the farthest. The top three finishers were all designed by the Grand Island team.

"It feels great to repeat for two years," Nucci said. "The kids worked hard and participated in a lot of events."

Grand Island senior Geoff Federspiel, 18, took first place in the competition's cornerstone event -- sumo-wrestling robots. Students wielding remote controls aggressively maneuvered their robots in an attempt to shove the competition out of an 8-foot-diameter ring.

Federspiel, who plans to attend Alfred State College for motor-sports fabrication after he graduates, attributed his robot's success to its low-riding design and high-traction tires.

"It's just plain fun," he said. "And if you're having fun, there's no other reason to do it."

The competition grows larger every year, Voisinet said.

More than 700 students competed, and a new event was added -- seismic design.

Students were asked to design a 15-story model building no taller than 6 feet and subject it to severe earthquake conditions, simulated by a seismic shake table.

Starpoint Central School District took first place in that category.

"The fun part is testing out my ideas to see what I can do and just being able to create," said junior David Mulrenin, 17, whose team developed the winning model. In addition to five other robotic competitions, other events included computer-assisted drawing, solid modeling, bridge crushing, and T-shirt and musical instrument design.

e-mail: niagaranews@buffnews.com

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