Teen wins honor by combining her interests in softball, computer science

Yarmouth High student Elena Miller created a computer app called Scoregenix, which makes the scoring of baseball and softball games easier and more intuitive. She won the 2020 Congressional App Challenge for Maine’s 1st District. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

As a softball player, Elena Miller understood the value and purpose of the scorebook to keep track of the many factors that determine individual and team success during a game.

But when Miller first tried to “keep the book” herself, “it took quite a bit of time to learn how to do it and I needed a lot of help – and then I was trying to teach teammates and saw how confusing it was.”

That’s when Miller’s athletic and academic interests crossed paths, prompting her to create a computer application – app, for short – called Scoregenix that helps to make scoring a game easier and more intuitive.

Last week, Miller’s app was announced as the winner of the 2020 Congressional App Challenge for Maine’s 1st District.

“I would love to continue in the field of computer science and coding,” said Miller, 16, a Yarmouth High junior. “I think my favorite part is after you write the code and you press ‘Run’ and seeing what you created with a bunch of lines of words actually work.”

The Congressional App Challenge, started in 2015, is an annual competition meant to encourage middle and high school students to practice coding and gain experience with computer science. The competition is set up as a districtwide contest, meaning Miller was competing against other students from Maine’s 1st District, represented by Rep. Chellie Pingree. Members of Congress must choose to participate to allow students in their districts to be eligible. In 2020, 301 of the 435 U.S. representatives sponsored the competition. Maine’s 2nd District did not participate. The Internet Education Foundation coordinates the competition.

One of the key ways Scoregenix simplifies the baseball/scoring process is by eliminating the traditional number system to identify positions (1 for pitcher, 2 for catcher). Instead, it relies on a series of easy to interpret menu options and prompts on a screen displaying a playing field graphic to guide a novice scorekeeper to keep track of a game pitch-by-pitch, batter-by-batter and inning-by-inning.

“The Congressional App Challenge is an opportunity for Maine students to showcase their technological skills and creativity before a national audience. Each year, I am impressed with the cutting edge innovations they come up with,” Pingree said in a statement. “Ms. Miller’s app Scoregenix will help every baseball and softball spectator to better understand the game they love.”

To be considered for the Congressional App Challenge, students must submit a video that explains and demonstrates their app as well as providing written responses to a few questions, Miller said.

Previous Congressional App Challenge winners from the 1st District have hailed from Portland, Falmouth, and Baxter Academy high schools. The 2019 winner, Aidan Blum Levin of Portland High, designed an app called Winditions, which allowed people participating in winter sports activities to share current weather conditions.

Miller said that as of now, Scoregenix is not ready to challenge popular baseball/softball scoring software programs already on the market, like iScore and GameChanger. She designed her app in a free software called App Lab and will need to reprogram it on a different platform for general use.

“The intention behind App Lab is to make it easier to get in and create an app, but it’s not designed for fully blown apps,” said Paul Lamson-LaPlume, Miller’s computer science teacher at Yarmouth High. “She was pushing the App Lab to some of its limits. The last time I saw the code, she was pushing over 1,000 lines of code.”

Miller said she’s had a goal of becoming a website designer “since I was a kid.” The older of math teacher Heidi and naval architect Eugene Miller’s two children, she had written “some snippets” of code for fun prior to high school. As a freshman she enrolled in the school’s Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles and as a sophomore took a full-year course in video game design as well as an introductory course in computer program using Python language.

“She’s very motivated,” Lamson-LaPlume said. “She’s one of those people where she’ll see a problem and grab on and just keep working. She has a very high initiative while also being very humble.”

In addition to softball, Miller is also an avid volleyball player. But this fall, with indoor volleyball canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, Miller joined the field hockey team. She is a member of the indoor track team this winter.

Primarily a first baseman in softball, Miller said she’s hopeful her Scoregenix app can get some legitimate field testing this spring, especially since she’s refined it over time.

An earlier version of Scoregenix took third place this past June in a statewide competition sponsored by Tyler Tech, a Texas-based software company with nearly 1,000 Maine employees in offices in Yarmouth, Falmouth and Bangor.

“When I saw the Congressional App Challenge I wanted to take it further,” Miller said. “There were some issues with my previous code and some refinements and I also added a few additional features.”

Among the improvements were eliminating bugs when accounting for stolen bases and enhancing the end-of-game spreadsheet, which is similar to a standard baseball box score.

“I do think it’s useful but I will say because of current Maine Principals’ Association’s rules for submitting scores, it wouldn’t be viable for coaches – but for any parent or athlete who wanted to keep track of the game and read the spreadsheet after, that’s really what the market is,” Miller said.


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