CRYSTAL LAKE – All a group of six Crystal Lake girls needed to get to Spain was their brains.
Collectively known as Fruit Salad, the six Lundahl Middle School eighth-graders are one of only eight FIRST LEGO League teams out of 14,000 in the United States and Canada to be invited to the Open European Championship in Pamplona, Spain at the end of May.
As competitors in the FIRST LEGO League, the girls had to build a robot out of nothing but LEGOs and program it to navigate a course and move objects all without the use of a controller. All directions are programmed into the robot before sending it off to see how efficiently it navigates the course and obstacles.
The team earned first place in its regional competition and the second-place champion's award in the northern Illinois state tournament in February, earning them a rare place in the international competition.
FIRST LEGO League is an international program for youths ages 8 to 14 that aims to increase interest in science, technology, math and engineering and teach employment and life skills.
"We were just hoping to make it to state so we were really excited," said team member Audrey Godsell. "It will be great to meet teams from around the world."
Godsell is joined by Theresa Grivas, Sidney Dickinson, Caroline Rausch, Kristen Anderson and Julie Freund on the team that has been together for two years.
The team worked constantly since September, meeting in groups of two for 90 minutes each weekday and as a whole group for three hours every Sunday when they would work together and set the next week's goals.
Freund said their robot, Plum, came out better than last year because they were more confident in experimenting.
"We were just trying different things until we had the best possible design," Freund said. "We didn't want to use the Internet. We wanted to come up with all of it on our own."
Ahead of its trip to Spain on May 28, the team will host four fundraisers in April to help subsidize the trip.
The Crystal Lake-based fundraisers include Tuesday at Culver's from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.; April 9 at Chipotle from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; April 17 at Nick's Pizza from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.; and one in Algonquin on April 22 at Fuddrucker's from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
For more information about Fruit Salad or to make a tax-deductible donation to the team, visit www.clrobotics.org/fll/fruitsalad/
"They make it look easy but they work incredibly hard at it," said Roger Godsell, whose basement is the team's laboratory with the robot and course setup. "They're very competitive."