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Two Harbors robotics gears up for first season

Two Harbors High School students visited Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids on Dec. 1 for an all-day workshop to help their robotics team learn some of the basics of building a robot. Twelve students and four adults attended. Photo: Lauren Burton

It all started when Two Harbors High School Principal Brett Archer applied for a $6,500 grant from NASA. The money was to help fund the school's robotics program. There was just one problem: THHS didn't have a robotics program.

That didn't stop Archer. He recruited two staff members, Lauren Burton and Mark Schlangen, to head the team. Fifteen kids immediately showed interest in the program, and since then, all the pieces have been falling together.

"The biggest thing is just saying 'yes,'" said Burton, a special education teacher at THHS. She and Schlangen, a science teacher at the high school, were apprehensive about many things, like the time commitment, the experience required and the money the team would need. Nonetheless, they threw themselves into the project.

"We're just going to be making some mistakes and we'll learn a lot from that," Burton said.

The THHS team will be part of the FIRST Robotics competition in March. FIRST is a nonprofit whose core mission is to inspire students to pursue science and technology, according to its website. But there are other components--Gracious Professionalism®, which encourages students to practice respect and kindness in competition, and Coopertition®, a concept where competing teams work together to foster innovation. THHS has already been the grateful beneficiary of these FIRST tenets.

William Kelley High School in Silver Bay began its robotics program four years ago under the moniker The Flaming Anchors, and the WKHS team hosted the Two Harbors students in November to give them some tips. The Duluth East High School Daredevils team also volunteered to help the THHS team learn the ropes.

In addition to supportive competitors, the team has found support from all over the community. Teachers Brian Rauvola, Penny Juenemann and Karen Lodin have stepped up to share their expertise and community members Dick Bohrer, Roger Walsberg, Russ Mattson, Roger Anderson, Dan Cruikshank and Matt Mecklin have volunteered their time to the newly-formed team.

"I so appreciate the way this community is...and the way people roll up their sleeves and start helping," Burton said.

Stanley/LaBounty, Kestrel Aircraft, The Lake Bank, Silver Creek Signworks, Granite Gear, Agate Electric, Northshore Manufacturing and Pure Driven are all donating money, materials or service to the team.

At their Dec. 4 meeting, the efficiency and commitment of the team was on display. In a matter of minutes, seniors Owen Cruikshank and Dan O'Neil were nominated and elected captains. Another student, in his free-time, had developed a potential team logo that he shared with his teammates. Bohrer had made a list of potential sponsors and two students volunteered to accompany him to make a sales pitch later in the week.

"We have kids showing interest in different areas," Burton said, including, of course, building robots but also in marketing and team leadership.

O'Neil and Crukishank, the newly-elected captains, are both considering engineering in college, so the robotics team was an obvious choice for them.

"I thought, 'how could you not take it up?'" O'Neil said.

O'Neil cited a marketing course he's currently taking as good practice for his team leadership role. Cruikshank listed the physics and math courses he's taken as building blocks for his involvement. The team attended a robotics workshop at Itasca Community College a few weeks ago, and he said it was clear he still has a lot to learn.

"The programming looked really difficult," he said.

The students will have to build a robot that can function on its own and by remote control before the regional competition at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center in March. The competition is different every year. Last March, it was called Rebound Rumble and the robots were randomly assigned to alliances. Then, they scored points by dropping a basketball through a hoop or balancing on a bridge. This season's competition will be announced on Jan. 5 via a live feed video from NASA. The team will also pick up its robot kit.

Since this is THHS's first competition, they're setting realistic goals upon which they can build in years to come.

"Our basic plan is to build a robot that moves," Burton said.

If you or your employer wishes to help sponsor the team, e-mail Dick Bohrer at

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.
(218) 834-2141