Newspaper cutting rescues Wirral robotics teacher from US customs misery
A WIRRAL teacher armed with a bag of robots faced US customs misery until he was able to prove all publicity is good publicity.
A party of pupils and staff from Prenton high school landed in Washington DC en route to Mexico City to showcase their robotic skills in a global contest.
But the students’ hopes of success at the problem-solving RoboCup competition looked dashed before they had even begun.
Security at Washington airport was tight when they landed on June 15 due to the meeting of world leaders for the G20 Summit in Mexico.
Science teacher Emma Hockenhull and four 13 and 14-year-old competitors were allowed through.
But assistant head of science John O’Neill aroused the suspicions of US customs officials.
He had checked in a bag containing the hand-built robots the girls planned to unleash at the week-long contest, which tasks students to put computer-programmed robots through different search and rescue scenarios
Mr O’Neill was ushered to join a slow-moving queue for people whose luggage required further explanation.
It meant he faced the prospect of waiting hours to be seen – meaning he and the robots would miss the connection flight to Mexico.
It would have meant the girls – UK champions of the competition – could not have registered in time.
But in a “flash of inspiration” Mr O’Neill turned to his copy of the News’ sister paper the Liverpool Echo.
He had taken a copy of an education supplement article on the students’ hopes for success in the competition.
The press cutting convinced the official to let him join the pupils, who went onto be crowned the highest-scoring English team.
Steve Taylor, the school’s learning resource base manager, said: “We are very grateful – without the story things could have been quite different.
“It was a flash of inspiration on Mr O’Neill’s part. He is a UK ambassador for RoboCup and had carried the story so others could see it.”