A group of Mahtomedi Middle School sixth-graders proved last month that it is not just innovation that will help bring success in a robot-building competition: There's much to be said for how you wear your hats, too.

The six-member team, known as The Golden Bricks, qualified for the FIRST Lego League state championship event on Feb. 2 by finishing atop one of two divisions in regional play in St. Paul on Dec. 15.

It's the team's third year together and its first trip to the state meet.

As part of the competition, youngsters design, build and program Lego robots to execute specific missions. But teams have other assignments, too, including a research project and a problem-solving exercise reminiscent of charades that is presented to them at the event itself.

Team spirit figures into the competition as well, and for The Golden Bricks, that's where the headwear came into play. Team members spent much of their day wearing styrofoam hats shaped like Lego pieces, and when they went before judges, they took them off and fitted them together.

"They said, 'We build each other up like we build our Legos,' " said Jodi Zemke, whose son, Gavin Zemke, is a Golden Bricks member. Others are Nate Gillen, Jack Kalkman, Kyle Larson, Ethan Wilke and Eli Zobrack.

Thus far, eight Washington County teams, including The Golden Bricks and Jars of Legos, also hailing from Mahtomedi Middle School, have qualified for the state event. Regional play continues until Jan. 19.

Jodi Zemke, who serves as a Golden Bricks coach with her husband, Dan, and a third Golden Bricks parent, Keith Larson, said that the Mahtomedi school system has been a hotbed for league activity because of STEM programming that emphasizes science, technology, engineering and math.

For this year's competition, dubbed "Senior Solutions," The Golden Bricks created a robot equipped with a forklift and light and color sensors. The color sensors came into play when the robot was sent to find a green medicine bottle among a group of orange ones.

Teams bring the same robot to the state event.

Jodi Zemke said that her son has devoted more than 60 hours to the current competition. Until now, team members have viewed the Lego League as a fall activity. But Gavin and his friends don't mind extending it into the new year, Jodi Zemke said.

Other county teams advancing to state competition include the Robo Rebels of Hugo, the REAL Men of Genius of Lake Elmo, and The Brick Bombers, The Beasts, the Random Robys and the Building Blazers, all of Woodbury.

Anthony Lonetree • 651-925-5036