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December 11, 2011 10:09 PM

Robotics League's Future Unclear

Sioux Falls, SD


As family and friends remember the four victims of Friday's Sioux Falls plane crash, colleagues are also acknowledging their contributions. The three passengers on-board the flight were all involved with the South Dakota FIRST LEGO League and were trying to help the robotics program expand.

The three passengers in the Twin Cessna airplane that crashed Friday afternoon were expanding FIRST Lego League West River when their flight was cut short.

"It was a complete shock to me when I found out the plane had crashed," Alan Swanson said.

Four years ago, Swanson started the FIRST LEGO league in South Dakota, where teams of junior high students build robots using LEGO bricks. The children then program the robots to complete tasks on an obstacle course.

Daniel Swets and Kevin Anderson volunteered as coaches during the first year of the league, participating with their children. Later, both Swets and Anderson became heavily involved in growing the organization. Joshua Lambrecht was this year's head judge.

"We just wanted to demonstrate science and technology can be fun," Swanson said. "It doesn't have to be serious. And by the way, you're having so much fun with the robot, you don't even realize you're learning all this science and technology."

Six hundred kids are now competing in the rapidly-growing league.

Recently, Swets became the head of the state league when a grant helped them start a set of teams in Rapid City. Swanson says Swets, Anderson and Lambrecht were flying to show the new West River Coordinators how to prepare for Saturday's practice scrimmage.

"It's kind of like losing our head coach, offensive coach and our defensive coach all at once, because those three people are really the key to making this go," Swanson said.

And while the investigation continues into what caused the crash that also killed pilot Brian Blake, the future of the robotics league remains uncertain.

"We are just going to have to figure out how to go forward. I am sure they would want us to go forward. But we are going to have to figure out how to do that," Swanson said.
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