In spite of an imperfect showing in the robotics portion of a robotics competition, a robotics team from Clintonville Academy didn't do too badly in a recent international championship at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

In spite of an imperfect showing in the robotics portion of a robotics competition, a robotics team from Clintonville Academy didn't do too badly in a recent international championship at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

The students placed third.

That was out of a total 16,400 teams from around the country and around the world that started out hoping to make it to the United States Foundation for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology world festival.

"They are extremely proud right now," said Jamie Diamond, coach of the Cougar Robotics Team. "Their school has recognized them. I think one of the things they liked the best and one of the coolest things about this whole organization ... is they stress what they call 'gracious professionalism.' It's one of their core values."

The team includes Diamond's 13-year-old son, Joey, Philip Sing, 16; Ginnie Brannaman, 13; and Jacob Miller, 12.

USFIRST was founded in 1989 in New Hampshire by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway. The first competition was held three years later involving 28 teams in a high school gymnasium.

In 1998, Kamen was joined by the Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, owner of the Denmark-based educational toymaker the LEGO Group, to create the FIRST LEGO League championship. LEGO makes programmable robot kits for young people.

Today, according to the nonprofit organization's Web site, the program reaches more than 150,000 students in 56 countries. The recent championship in the Georgia Dome included 1,808 teams representing the cream of the crop from competitions in 48 states and 12 countries.

The Cougar Robotics Team, which takes its name from Clintonville Academy's mascot, finished first in the regional and state competitions to qualify for the event in Georgia, according to coach Diamond.

The competition requires team members to build and program a robot to follow a pattern, maneuver around obstacles and perform specific functions along the way.

The Cougar Robotics Team had its beginnings four years ago, Diamond said, when he was at a boat race in Hartwell, Ga., and a friend from Cleveland mentioned she would be going to a high school robotics competition.

Upon returning to Clintonville, Diamond said he cast about for a team that son Joey could join because he recognized robotics competitions would provide valuable lessons in not just science and technology but also teamwork.

When they couldn't find a team, they founded one.

"We kind of started from scratch back in 2007," said Diamond, a computer programmer and systems engineer for Nationwide Insurance.

Joey got three friends from Clintonville Academy to join in.

"We did OK," Diamond said. "We actually placed in the top six of our regional tournament at Columbus State Community College."

From there they went on to the state event and "surprised a lot of people by winning the robot part of the competition," he said.

Buying the somewhat expensive robotic kits from LEGO initially was somewhat daunting, the coach confessed.

"I had never previously been able to justify spending 250 bucks on LEGOs," Diamond said. "Now I've got five of them."

In the warm-ups and practice rounds at the event in Atlanta, the Cougar Robotics Team's 10-inch by 8-inch by 10-inch entry had four perfect runs on the prescribed course, Diamond said, but then had problems during the actual competition rung. The foursome finished 15th in the robotics aspect of the judging, but did so well in the technical review where the young people explain their work to judges teamwork and another project involving inventing a bicycle safety light, for which a patent is being sought, that they moved all the way up to third overall, the coach said.

"They had a very realistic shot at being world champions," Diamond added. "On any given day, any one of the three teams could have won."

It was the culmination of a lot of valuable lessons, the coach said.

"It's going to serve them well through college and into their careers," Diamond said.

"It's one of the best things that I've done with my son because it's been stimulating and fun for both of us," Diamond said. "It was pretty completely engaging and interesting for both of us."