As Black Eyed Peas performed before 20,000 people, the music stopped and a spotlight picked out seven surprised kids from the Oakville area, winners of the FIRST Lego League global competition.
To applause and back patting, the seven, aged 11 to 14, made their way onto the stage in St. Louis
to be publicly congratulated as world champions. It marked the first time a Canadian team had won
the FIRST Lego competition, held at the same time as the FIRST Robotics tournament.

FIRST Lego League has some 17,000 teams in 57 countries. Only 85 made it to the finals in
St. Louis. Among them were two of Ontario’s 230 teams, the other coming from Tomken Road Middle School in Mississauga in the Peel DSB.

“We were all extremely surprised to be called up to the stage,” says Oakville Sentinels coach and mentor John Catricala. “The kids felt like rock stars.”

The Sentinels team is an unusual group. Unlike most teams, it is not the product of a school program. Instead, the team members come from seven different schools, public and Catholic as well as private. They met at a summer robotics camp run by Catricala and his wife, Pam, where they decided to join the FIRST program.

The Catricalas own and operate E-Bots, a summer, after-school and Saturday robotics program. To prepare for FIRST, the Sentinels met for up to eight hours on Saturdays for three months as well as on PD days to create their Lego robot. “We provided the location, the tools and acted as mentors,” says John. “The kids did the rest.” Adds Pam: “It is an exceptional group. They never stop.”

The FIRST Lego competition differs from FIRST Robotics in several respects in addition to it being for a younger age group. With FIRST Lego, the robot is only part of the entry. The other component is a research presentation on a topic that changes annually. This year it was innovative ways to overcome illnesses through biomedical engineering. The Sentinels chose diabetes. Their video, part of the overall project that has to be defended before judges, can be seen at

Even the robot component is different. The robot must be totally autonomous and perform a series of tasks, such as putting on a cast, that are related to the overall medical theme. And there are no alliances as in FIRST Robotics.

Nevertheless, the experience for mentors and students is the same as in FIRST Robotics. “It’s incredibly satisfying working with these children,” John says. “They are so eager to learn.”