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Two Harbors Rock Solid robotics headed back to state

From left, Jake Wilmont and Andrew Hulst work on the Two Harbors robot in the pits at the Minnesota FIRST regional competition March 4 at the DECC in Duluth. (News-Chronicle file photo by Adelle Whitefoot)1 / 2
Minnesota FIRST regional competition March 4 at the DECC in Duluth. (News-Chronicle file photo by Adelle Whitefoot)2 / 2

After hundreds of hours of work this school year, the Two Harbors Rock Solid robotics team is heading back to the state competition May 21 at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

The team qualified for the state tournament during the Lake Superior Regional in March at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center.

The team's qualification for the state tournament wasn't without its drama though. The Two Harbors team had to scramble to correct a problem with its robot's climbing mechanism just a few days before the deadline to complete robots for the Lake Superior Regional. Silver Bay Mariners robotics coach Chris Belanger noticed that the Two Harbors robot's climbing device did not comply with the state rules and pointed it out during a scrimmage in Grand Rapids. The team worked furiously over the next few days to try to meet the competition specifications but ultimately chose to remove the device entirely to ensure its robot wasn't disqualified.

The Rock Solid team is only in its fourth year of existence, but it has been to state three times and has grown from just a few students to a 21-member team, according to its website. The team members have been able to differentiate into roles that best suit them with departments that include electronics, building, programming, computer-aided design and even a media and marketing department. This year, it will send 12 students to the state competition instead of just a handful, since this year the event doesn't conflict with another annual event that's hard for students to miss, the Two Harbors prom.

Willem Borher, one of the founding members of Rock Solid robotics, said the growth of the team since it began has been impressive.

"We started off not knowing a single thing," he said. "We worked through it and got help from Duluth East with our programming and got our robot moving."

Borher said the first robot the team built was little more than the sum of the parts provided them from the robotics officials.

"It was the most simple thing we could possibly build and have it still run," he said. "We only had one moving part on the robot other than the wheels and we made it to third place at state just with that idea. Progressing into the future, we used that same kind of mindset with our robots to keep them simple and make them work really well."

Borher said the team has never failed to make it past the quarterfinals of any competition, and keeping the robots simple has helped them make the robots work well and repair them when something goes awry.

Coach Mark Schlangen said when the teams have built their robots, he always asks, "How will you replace that if it breaks?"

The team has come a long way from its first year at state when a wheel broke on its original robot and they were forced to duct tape it back together for the final round of competition, but it always keeps Schlangen's question in mind.

The 2016 version of the Rock Solid team's robot still has only one moving part, thanks to the removal of its climbing mechanism, but it still has the team competing for a state title and hoping to grow into an annual contender.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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