Getting scratches on his arms or breaking the stems on his mother's lilac shrubs wasn't worth the effort to fill water balloons, so 8-year-old Sam Owsley came up with a way to turn on an outdoor water spigot without the hassle.

The solution to his dilemma – Sam's Handy Handle Helper – not only provided him an easy way to turn on a water hose blocked by dense shrubs on the side of his family's Norwich Street residence in Hilliard; it also gained the rising third-grader at St. Brendan School a first-place finish in the fifth-annual Invention Convention U.S. Nationals.

"Whenever I wanted to fill water balloons, I would get hurt (reaching through the bushes), so I didn't want to do it anymore," Sam said. "But now I'm healing, and the bushes are healing."

His invention consists of a length of PVC pipe that extends from the spigot handle through the bushes. The pipe is twisted to turn the handle.

Sam and other winners would have traveled to the Henry Ford center in Dearborn, Michigan, to showcase their inventions in a finals competition and be recognized, but like most everything else during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, it was canceled and made into a virtual event.

More than 120,000 students in kindergarten through the 12th grade competed at local affiliate events to qualify for the 2020 Invention Convention U.S. Nationals.

Of those students, 453 attended the U.S. Nationals, said Aaron Wartner, a spokesman for Invention Convention Worldwide.

Sam won first place in his second-grade category during the national competition.

"Sam is a shining example of what determination and innovative problem-solving can achieve, not to mention the importance of invention education," said Lucie Howell, chief learning officer at the Henry Ford.

The Henry Ford "fosters inspiration and learning from hands-on encounters" focused on "innovation, ingenuity and resourcefulness in America," Wartner said.

Its venues include the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village, Ford Rouge Factory Tour, Benson Ford Research Center and Henry Ford Academy, a public charter high school.

The virtual competition did not diminish the quality of the entries, Howell said.

"With students participating from throughout the country in this year's virtual competition, we were beyond impressed by the inventiveness and creativity of these young inventors," she said.

Local Invention Convention officials also said they were impressed.

"Sam is a perfect example of the kind of learner and learning that Invention Convention makes possible," said Jim Bruner, board president of the Ohio Invention League. "It allows kids of any age to take ownership of their learning and skills and promotes valuable human skills like curiosity, creativity, empathy, mentorship, communication and confidence."

Sam's invention idea was practical, said his mother, Erin Owsley. She and her husband, Kevin, also have an older son, 10-year-old Charlie.

"We looked for something for Sam to fix when he entered the school-based competition, (and) he brought up how he has to go between the bushes to turn on the water," she said.

Same said he had to make a prototype, which required trial-and-error experiments and multiple trips to the hardware store. He said he had to use a rotary power tool several times before building an extension with the proper torque to turn the water spigot with the PVC pipe.

In addition to Sam, other central Ohio Invention Convention winners included:

* Samrithy Balaji, a Lewis Center third-grader who won second place in her grade category for her Spec X Finder invention to help people find missing eyeglasses.

* Katie Johnson, a Bexley third-grader who won third place in her grade category for a device that helps homeless people identify and reserve space at shelters and provides transportation to that housing at public-transportation stops.

* Kristina Ma, a Columbus seventh-grader who won first place in her grade category for the SociEmoti: Autistic Skills app, to help children with autism enhance their social and emotional skills.

* Grace Rhodes, a Powell second-grader who won third place in her grade category for the Straw-Cycler, which helps people recycle straws.

* Vera Wilder, a Delaware second-grader who won second place in her grade category for the Toothbrush Brush to clean excess toothpaste.

Prizes and opportunities from the contest include pro bono patent awards and meetings with marketers, product designers and engineers to help advance inventions to the next stage, according to a press release announcing the central Ohio winners.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo