By Jack Minch
Sentinel & Enterprise
LEOMINSTER — Trevor Leger and Enrique Marquez admitted they were nervous, but once New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft walked up to them with running back Danny Woodhead and Raytheon CEO and Chairman Bill Swanson on Sunday, they relaxed.
Leger, Marquez and their teammates from the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster first made three presentations to panels of judges at the Science of Sports Science Fair inside Gillette Stadium to earn a place in the finals with five other teams.
“Obviously, we were nervous,” said Trevor, 13, an eighth-grader at Sky View Middle School in Leominster. “Then the judges came, and we presented our information, and it was easy.”
A team from the Boys & Girls Club in Roxbury earned first place, but each member of the Fitchburg-Leominster team still won a $750 scholarship.
“One of the judges was saying it was neck and neck,” said Rocco Spagnuolo, the unit director for the local club.
The scholarship can be used toward college or a camp specializing in math or science, Spagnuolo said.
Teams were tasked with developing an idea to improve a sport, either for an equipment manufacturer or a player, using STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math.
Trevor, Enrique and their teammates, including Leo Gonzalez, Kyle Klimowicz, Trey Nieves and Hunter Sergey, tested five types of wood to determine which wood would make the best baseball bats.
They even took a field trip to UMass Lowell’s Baseball Research Center, which has worked with Major League Baseball since 1997 and tested bats for the NCAA since 1999.
“People were pretty impressed that the kids thought of an idea like that,” Spagnuolo said. “They were impressed we went to UMass for research. Not many teams did that.”
The second-place finish was particularly sweet because the team competed a year ago and finished near the back of the pack.
This year’s field of about 25 teams representing Boys & Girls Clubs from around New England was the largest ever, Spagnuolo said.
“Last year, we didn’t come close to winning, so this year, we were so amazed,” Trevor said.
The local team left the club on Lindell Avenue about 7 a.m., and the competition began three hours later.
It was a chaotic atmosphere with teams and judges in the third-level suites overlooking the playing field, Spagnuolo said.
“It was loud because, I think, everybody was proud to be there,” said Enrique, a sixth-grader at Longsjo Middle School in Fitchburg.
Out of tests with maple, cherry, oak, poplar and mahogany woods, tests concluded that poplar and maple provided the best bounce for baseballs.