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Race minus the rays.

Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

Solar Challenge?

Try "solar-challenged," said John Femal, community education coordinator for the Eugene Water & Electric Board. He was joking about Saturday's rain that threatened to put a damper on EWEB's 10th annual event for area middle school students.

Despite the rain, hundreds of students from Eugene, Bethel, Springfield and other area school districts participated in Saturday's EWEB Solar Challenge, testing their knowledge of solar energy and electric vehicles as they raced and showed their student-built model cars.

"Somebody made the call this morning," said a laughing Femal, walking through the Monroe Middle School gymnasium filled with sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in soggy T-shirts, tracking rainwater behind them, "and we're paying the price now."

The "call" Femal referred to was the vote that seven volunteers (in a 5-2 tally) made at about 7 a.m. to hold the racing part of the event outdoors, normally held in the gym during rain.

"This is Oregon," said volunteer Al Hughes, a retired South Eugene High School biology teacher and former EWEB employee, explaining his role in making the decision.

So there was Hughes, wearing shorts and standing in the middle of the 12-lane track,

rejoicing after hours of rain - sometimes hard, driving rain - as he readied students for the final race about 1:30 p.m. "Hey, it's not raining!" he hollered, water still puddled on his glasses, as he began to do a little dance.

And with that, the final race was on - even if the solar panels on top of the cars were, uh, just for show. Instead, contestants relied on good old battery power this year, just as they've done in past years while racing indoors.

After 24 heats, the car that sped to victory in the 25th and final heat of the double-elimination competition was "Brady's Bunch 1." Bailee Pond's brown eyes grew larger and larger as the car built by her Kennedy Middle School classmate, Lindy Myers, got closer and closer. Pond reached out and grabbed the car after it finished, as teacher Rick Long came over and gave her a high-five.

"I don't know," a stunned Myers said afterward, when asked how her car won. "I let go and she caught it."

No idea why your car was the fastest?

"Because we made it?" Myers said. "I have no clue."

She built the car in Brady Metzger's sixth-grade class - thus its moniker - along with three other students who weren't there for the final race. Instead, Pond substituted and stood at the end of the lane for the final, joined by "receivers" from other area middle schools.

"A lot of luck," joked Metzger, when asked the secret to building the winning car.

All students use the same standardized solar panel and motor components on the vehicles they built out of balsa wood and corrugated foam. However, it's the ingenuity and inventiveness that sets the winners apart in the design and "concept car" categories.

EWEB provides grants to the school districts so students can learn about electric energy and solar power through their school's science curriculum, Femal said. The Solar Challenge is the culmination of the program each school year.

"I was very excited," said Chris Wilson, a seventh-grader at Briggs Middle School in Springfield, whose "Imperial Destroyer" car won first place in the concept car category out of about 50 entries. "I just couldn't believe it," said Wilson, who received a $10 gift certificate to Cinemark. Other students entered in the competition voted and Wilson's car, a mini replica of the "Star Wars" spaceship, received 49 votes, topping other creative vehicles designed to look like everything from a red Crayon to a bumble bee.

Asked if he'd race the Destroyer against other cars, Wilson said, "Not really. I'd probably get beat bad."


Check the following link at the Eugene School District Web site beginning Monday afternoon to see the list of winners in the race, design and car concept categories: http://fractal.4j solar_challenge/
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Title Annotation:Schools; Rain doesn't stop area middle school students from taking the Solar Challenge
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 10, 2007
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