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Robotics team makes Rock Solid showing at world competition

As part of their fundraising, the robotics team sold raffle tickets for two prizes. The first was a night of luxury at Superior Shores, including a stay for six in the Executive Lodge and a personal dinner made by the Executive Chef. Guidance Counselor Kerri Persons threw a dart to choose the winners. The second was a portage pack form Granite Gear. Neil Udenberg won the Superior Shores prize and Jane Bohrer won the pack. (Submitted)1 / 4
The drive team, consisting of Owen Cruikshank, Logan Anderson and Willem Bohrer, focuses hard during competition in St. Louis. (Courtesy of Brian Rauvola)2 / 4
Members of the Two Harbors Robotics team pose in front of the St. Louis Arch during their trip to the world competition. From left to right, Brad Knight, Austin Stillwell, mentor Richard Bohrer, Autumn Smith, mentor Roger Walsberg, mentor Dan Cruikshank, Rosie Cruikshank, adviser Lauren Burton, mentor Matt Mecklin,Willem Bohrer and Dennis Pearson. (Courtesy of Brian Rauvola)3 / 4
Isaac Burton and adviser Mark Schlangen work on their robot Sarah during the world robotics competition in St. Louis last weekend. (Courtesy of Brian Rauvola)4 / 4

There was some stiff competition at the FIRST Robotics Worlds Competition in St. Louis over the weekend. The Two Harbors team, which is in its first year, held its own against teams sponsored by companies like Google and Motorola and hailing from places like Israel and Turkey.

Coach Lauren Burton, special education teacher at Two Harbors High School, recalled a particular move executed by driver Logan Anderson during a match. He steered the team's robot toward a competitor, gently bumping and knocking it over. It remained disabled for the rest of the two-minute match, giving the Two Harbors' alliance a distinct advantage.

After the match, the Two Harbors team saw the competitor's coach headed their way. Instead of chiding them for immobilizing his team, he gushed about how impressive it was that they had managed to knock his robot down, Burton said.

"It was really cool," Burton said.

The spirit of "coopertition," (a model of friendly competition coupled with collaboration) is a FIRST Robotics tenet and it was prevalent throughout the tournament, Burton said. It's also entirely necessary--the teams compete on alliances made up of three robots, so teamwork is essential.

The Rock Solid Robotics Team advanced to the top level of international robotics competition after being named the rookie all-star at the regional competition in Duluth. They finished 72nd in the international Newton division, which was made up of 100 teams.

"We didn't come away with a big trophy, but what we came with was just as valuable," Burton said.

She said the trip was inspiring for the students, who got to meet hundreds of fellow robotics competitors, chat with representatives from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and NASA and see some advanced technology made by students their own age.

Some students they met brought homemade 3-D printers with them and produced souvenirs for their fellow robotic enthusiasts. Another student won an award for a new kind of prosthetic leg he developed.

"It was incredibly inspirational to see what some students were capable of doing," Burton said.

The Rock Solid team also got to hear from a surprising guest speaker--Will.I.Am, a member of the pop group Black Eyed Peas. Burton said it's all part of FIRST's mission to make science, technology, engineering and math more appealing to youth.

"We want this to be the new cool," she said.

Judging by the community support the team received, they're well on their way to achieving cool status. Burton said they couldn't have done it without sponsorships from local businesses and individuals--as well as the high level of interest in the team.

"We really feel like a team that's supported by our community," she said.

The team is finalizing plans to attend the state competition in Minneapolis on May 18. While their appearance in St. Louis wasn't based solely on their score at the regional competition, their invitation to compete at the state competition is--they are ranked in the top 30 out of more than 100 teams in the state.

However they perform at state, Burton said the team has proved itself a success.

"We measured their success by how they operated as a team...they were fantastic. We're very proud," Burton said.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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