Competing with more than 180 schools from three different states, Lake and Springfield Local Schools took honors in the recent Soap Box Derby’s Gravity Racing Challeng (GRC) STEM Team Competition presented by The University of Akron's College of Engineering.

The famed hill at Derby Downs was the site of the competition designed to encourage students to design, customize, build and compete in a race with their derby car. It is a fun way for students to learn science, technology, engineering and math.

Leading up to the competition, eams of up to 10 students and educators had worked for several months to build Soap Box Derby cars. In addition, they worked on optional contests that included a mini Soap Box Derby car race and design competitions. Five area high school teams competed in the Engineering Design Challenge division. Teams were provided with kits that included the floorboard, axles, wheels, steering and braking systems. They were also given a list of materials that were allowed to be used in the design and construction of the body. Some teams built for speed and some for uniqueness of design. Lake High School's car No. 405 took first place in the High School Engineering Design Challenge. The Mach 5, full-size derby car was assembled by the Lake High School Career Tech GenYes class. The car designer was Nick Paschke and the driver was senior Drew Delap. Coaches were Ken Wolfe, Dave Wood, Tom McBride and Frank Pilato.

Springfield High School sends two cars to the event each year. This year, car No. 307 was entered in the High School Super Stock Division. Driven by Autumn Torday, No. 307 finished in second place, losing by a mere 0.06 seconds.

Springfield's Tech Ed Teacher Pete Geiss explained that the school's Soap Box Derby Club meets after school and at the beginning of each year, the students disassemble the cars from the previous year and reassemble them to match the size and weight of the drivers for the current year.

"This process really helps the students get an understanding of how the cars work, and for some of them, it is their first opportunity that they've had to use any sort of tools," said Geiss.

After assembly takes place, the kids practice driving the cars in the hallways of the school.

"This helps my drivers get valuable experience learning how the car will react to their movements," he said. "Also, it gives us the opportunity to learn how well we assembled the car. Feedback from our drivers will let us know if we need to adjust the steering, alignment, brakes, etc."

The cars are then taken to Derby Downs where they are put through an inspection to ensure they are built to the exact specifications of the International Soap Box Derby. The week following the inspections, the club takes a field trip to Derby Downs for what is known as Team Day. The car is weighed with the driver inside of it to ensure that it is not over the allowed weight limit. The students are also given the chance to learn a little more about the history of the International Soap Box Derby and tour the museum of past champions. After the weigh in and the tour, drivers are given two chances to go down the race track.

"This is a great opportunity for everyone to experience the thrill that really makes the Soap Box Derby exciting," said Geiss.

Lake Middle School (LMS) Science and Engineering Club took third place in the competition. Driving the car was 7th-grader Colton King. The club is advised by teachers Cristina Jones and Staci Lisy.

Jones said this is the second year that the Science and Engineering Club has participated in the event. She said last year they were just hopeful that the car would make it down the hill. This year, they were pleased when their car continued to win the heats throughout the day.

"The nice thing about the program is that some of the kids have never used a tool before, it is nice that they get the opportunity to do this," said Jones, who added her students have really enjoyed participating in the Gravity Racing Challenge. "It has generated interest in our Science and Engineering Club. It is a great learning experience and an opportunity to students to apply STEM principles."

All students have the opportunity to be involved in the process from building the car to racing down the hill at Derby Downs.

This year, Lake Middle School also participated in the mini-car competition. According to the Soap Box Derby brochure, "The mini car is a 1/13-inch scale model of a Soap Box Derby car. The car is constructed, designed, tested, analyzed, evaluated and raced by youth." Students also get to apply their art skills as they decorate the shell of the mini car.

Casey Yokley finished second in best time and Noah Britt was third. Alyssa Dinger was first in the best decorated category, while Noah Carter was second and Elisa Roberts was third.