A love of baseball and some old fashioned hard work paid off big time for Palos East fourth graders last month at the annual Young Inventor Challenge (YIC) at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair (ChiTAG).
The Palos East fourth grade team of Walker Ahluwalia and Bryce Wiersma won first place "Best in Show" for the junior category with their game Grand Slam at the sixth annual Young Inventor Challenge at the Toy and Game Fair on November 17. The fair attracts over 20,000 attendees each year and is open to kids ages 6–18 to exhibit their own original toy or game invention to top executives and companies in the toy industry. Winners are selected by professionals from the United Inventors Association of America (UIA), the largest organization of professional inventors in the world.
Palos School District 118 had 20 games entered in the competition, with over 100 student groups. Mrs. Julie McNamara and Mrs. Carrie Martinez’s fourth grade Accelerated Learning Program (ALPS) students at Palos East and West Elementary Schools entered the contest, as well as other fifth and sixth grade teams from the district.
Palos South sixth graders Nicole Vacha and Megan Thomason, were runners up in the junior category for their game, Helicopter High. Vacha and Thomason took the initiative on their own to enter the competition.
Timed with the competition was an invention unit for fourth grade ALPS students. McNamara explained during ALPS class time from September to November, “Students worked through the different steps in the invention process such as brainstorming an idea, making a prototype, play-testing designs, making improvements, and presenting a final design.”
In preparation for the competition, Palos East ALPS students also held an “Invention Convention” during school, and invited all fourth graders to play-test their games. Bionic Wrench inventor, Dan Brown, and two-time Young Inventor Challenge winner Nick Metzler, also spoke with students about ways to improve their inventions. The preparation paid off.
Grand Slam was invented while working on a brainstorming worksheet in class. “We both liked sports and wanted to create an interactive game that had kids flicking or catapulting an object,” Ahluwalia said.
“I couldn't be prouder of the two boys,” said McNamara, “They had a great idea from the start and worked really hard to see it through to completion. I hope their success inspires future ALPS students.”
As First in Show category champions, the boys won the following prizes: Dinner with leading toy industry experts, a feature in Inventor's Digest, a one-year subscription to Inventor's Digest, top-rated patent software, free trademark and copyright services, a VIP tour and peek into Santa's Workshop at Lund and Company Invention LLC, and the opportunity to present at the Toy of the Year Awards in New York.
“If you try to invent something, you have to put in a lot of work and effort” said Wiersma, “If you do, you're most likely to succeed.”
Ahluwalia advises future inventors, “If you invent a game, have fun, copyright it, and try to keep the budget low.”
Both boys are grateful to their parents and teacher. They also have high hopes for the future. Beyond aspirations of having their game manufactured, Wiersma aspires to be an inventor and run his own company. Ahluwalia plans on becoming an engineer and a professional sports player. With the same hard work and determination, the boys will undoubtedly fulfill those dreams, or any others they invent along the way.