With a clever board game starring a snake and mongoose, Walter J. Baird Middle School sixth-graders Kaleb Featherston and John Hancock find themselves competing in the National Invention Competition.  

Featherston, 11, and Hancock, 12, were among a dozen students from their school who participated in the 28th annual Tennessee Invention Convention at Middle Tennessee State University. 

Forty-six schools, including 17 from Wilson County, and 828 students competed in the event where students showcase their inventions which must fall into one of two categories: Games or Make Life Easier. Along with Featherston and Hancock, 19 other students from Lebanon and Wilson County schools were invited to the nationals.

The game garnered the duo an invitation to the national convention that was is scheduled for June 3-5 at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Mich., but, due to the coronavirus, instead of making their presentation in person, they will do so via video. Judging will be done in June, and the awards ceremony will be pre-recorded and shown on social media channels around June 26.  

Featherston said the goal of the Mongoose Hunt game he and Hancock created is to be the first player to get to the end space first, while in the advance version it’s getting to the end without the snake catching you “because if the snake catches you, then you’re out.”

How did the two come up with the mongoose and snake characters? 

Hancock said, “We kind of wanted a bad guy in our game and wanted the game to be animal-based. Snakes are usually bad guys, and we wanted a good guy. We knew that mongooses ate snakes sometimes, so we chose the mongoose to be the good guy.

“We started with it just being a game where you roll the dice and move so many spaces but then decided it would be more fun with trivia questions and consequences if you got them wrong,” said Hancock whose family enjoys playing games like Monopoly, Yahtzee and Risk.

The game can involve from two to five players and takes about 15 minutes. The boys wrote about 100 questions with answers on cards. The categories include world history, important places, important people, movies and music. Featherston designed the game board, and Hancock created the poster board display. They said it took about three months to complete the project and cost of materials ran about $15.

The biggest challenge, according to Hancock, who enjoys reading, swimming, baseball, basketball and playing piano, was “thinking up the questions. That’s probably where we spent the majority of our time. We also kind of had trouble with the labels on the display board.” 

Walker J. Baird Middle School world history teacher Anne Allen also leads the Extend class where students prepare for entries into the Invention Convention. 

“They use a different part of the brain than they typically use in class on this. They are looking at life around them and trying to make something easier or make it fun to learn something. We have a lot of games every year but also some pretty cool inventions too. Four of our boys worked together and received medals for creating a checkbook and check log for people with limited vision. The checking folder also included an oversize calculator,” said Allen.

“For these sixth-graders there is a lot is time management. They have three months to work on it, but if they don’t start today, they won’t be ready when the deadline comes.”

While the two young game makers were a bit gloomy that they would not be going to Michigan in June, there is a silver lining. 

“I was excited about going to Henry Ford Museum,” said Hancock, “but they said we will get a family pass that we can use anytime in the next year.”


The Wilson County students who won awards at the Tennessee Invention Convention were: 


Rutland - Chace Balmer and Mrinav Shresa; Justin Shelton, Eli Lusk and Balazs Margl*; Lakeview - Evie Gallion and Tegan de Koff; Durden Brooks and Alex Loftis; Layton Plummer and Billy Biggs; Macey Reid and Abby Taylor; West - Luis Shimamoto; Gladeville Elementary - Kenton Stoner, Tristan Giles and Gabe McGill*; Sam Houston - Addison Haston, Hadley Hays and Harper Haskins; Levi Davenport and Noah Hardin*; Gabriel Wynne and Mason Baird*; W.A. Wright - Currin Williams; Springdale - Maleeha Fernandes*; Lakeview Elementary - Kai Quach and J.T. Proctar*.


West - RaShad Williams and Grayson Bean; Skyla Griffin and Emma Long*; Sam Houston - Jack Beasley, Jack East and Turner Davis; Eli Jimenez and Dylan Page*; W.A. Wright - Lydia Russo; Elzie Patton - Xander Bohannon and Jacob Christoffersen; Anniston Weber and Sarah Pinto; My Hanh Le and Marlee Shaffer; Coles Ferry - Graham Huffaker and Carter McPeak; Anabelle Bowers, Mattie Beaty and Emily Hudlow*; Springdale - Thomas Newman; Lakeview Elementary - Brook Reeves*.


Carroll Oakland - Rylee Buehler and Dawson Welch; Morgan Garton, Dusty Davis and Sara Scott; Jack Williams, Jasper Bristow and Shaun Strane; WJ Baird - Brendan Deadman, Jonah Gardner and Jackson Blevins; Leia Bryant and Kayleigh Agosta; John Hancock and Kaleb Featherston; Winfree Bryant - Gavin Barrett and Samuel Schrimpe.

*- invited to the National Invention Convention

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