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Looking around the gym at Mount St. Mary Academy last Saturday, you couldn't help being inspired and optimistic about the future. The enthusiasm and dedication shown by all the students competing in the 19th annual Future City Competition was apparent, and it was obvious that all their hard work had paid off.

Teams of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from a variety of middle schools showed off their tabletop models and made presentations about their future city. Behind the scenes, teams also had to write an essay on how their city addressed this year's theme: "Providing a Reliable and Effective Health Care Product or System That Improves a Sick, Injured or Disabled Patient's Quality of Life and Comfort" and a city narrative. Students also had to design a city on SimCity 4 Deluxe software.

Even though all the teams had clearly worked hard, some stood out above the rest. Returning champions St. Mary's of Swormville took first place again, creating an opportunity for presenters Hannah Davis, Michael Pearl and Caitlyn Leyong to go to Washington, D.C., to compete in the nationals. Their city, Aiyana Niagara -- "Blossom of Thundering Water" -- was situated in the Buffalo area and helped people with multiple sclerosis. The city used many types of alternative energy sources, even kinetic energy from the sports stadium. Nanomesh skin covering the buildings served to filter pollution out of the air and to keep heat in the buildings.

Explaining the decision to pick this area, Hannah said, "We decided, why not do Buffalo in the wintertime? Everyone thinks it's such a negative right now. How can we channel that into a positive?"

Their model even included a "Bass Pro coming soon" sign.

In their first year participating in the competition, Tell/Marshall home school's Hawaiian city, Jamara, won second place and the Most Innovative Transportation System for its robotic monorail and moving sidewalks.

SS. Peter and Paul's city, Exglacies, won third place and the Project Management Award for its Arctic location and industries of drilling for gas hydrates as a clean source of energy and harvesting lichen to serve as an antibiotic for "superbugs."

Coming in fourth place was St. Francis of Assisi's city, New San Francisco. The team won the Bridge Design Award and also had very innovative technology in its city. This included piezoelectric generators that made electricity from the pressure on the fault line, reverse speakers that turned sound into electricity, and even a space elevator.

In fifth place, Transit Middle School's Anningshi took advantage of its coastal location by having salt boats and an "Energy Island" that takes energy from the sun, wind and a system called O.T.E.C. (Ocean Thermal Energy Converter). The team received the Spirit Award for its teamwork, and presenter Melissa Li said, "We're all working toward this one common goal. We knew that we had to pull together or else we wouldn't be able to do it."

Receiving honorable mentions were Frontier Middle's City of Ember (yes, it was underground) and Mill Middle's Utropolis, which focused on obesity and making citizens get active.

Coming all the way from Corning, the Alternative School for Math and Science won the Most Unique Engineering Design Award. The Energy Efficiency Award was given to St. Christopher's Stockholm. Christ the King won the Pollution Prevention Award for its Green Haven's use of anaerobic bacteria to treat waste and bladeless wind turbines. BEAM (Buffalo-area Engineering Awareness for Minorities) won the Most Unique Computer Model Design Award for its Infinitive City.

The Most Unique Model Award went to Nativity of Our Lord's Miastro Rzeki. Also from Nativity of Our Lord, Jalada got the Student Choice Award. The city had flying cars, aboveground tourist cars, hover discs and even hover benches. The team wanted to be different, and their unique city was their competitors' favorite. After all, as team member Katy Lewandowski said, "What's the point of a city if you can't have fun?"

These students did have fun while learning about city planning, engineering and teamwork. Many are looking into engineering and science careers because of what the Future City Competition has taught them. Some of the ideas for the future cities may never become a reality, but that isn't the point. When addressing the teams, Karen Armstrong, the regional coordinator, said, "I was really impressed with so many of the ideas students came up with for our health care systems. I encourage you all to stay involved with that because President Obama and presidents to come will really need your help with figuring that out."

After this experience, it seems these students would be glad to help while following their dreams for the future.

Kristina Macro is a sophomore at Holy Angels Academy.

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Special Award Winners

Most Unique Engineering Design Award -- Alternative School for Math & Science, Esperance

Bridge Design Award -- St. Francis of Assisi, New San Francisco

Most Unique Model Award -- Nativity of Our Lord, Miastro Rzeki

Energy Efficiency Award -- St. Christopher, Stockholm,Sweden

Pollution Prevention Award -- Christ the King, Greenhaven

Most Innovative Transportation System -- Tell/Marshall Homeschool, Jamara

Most Unique Computer Model Design Award -- BEAM, Infinitive City

Most Inspiring Essay and City Narrative Award -- Immaculate Conception, Al-Hasa Oasis

Project Management Award -- SS. Peter and Paul, Exglacies

Spirit Award -- Transit Middle, Anningshi