Neon wiffle balls fly all over the place, high and low. No, this wasn’t a scene at a softball or baseball practice in the gym. It was a practice at DRB Fabrication, located in Greenbush, involving both the Badger and Greenbush-Middle River Robotics teams’ robots as they worked together to prepare for their respective regional events, both on Thursday, March 2 in Duluth. The two teams’ drivers may have stood at opposite sides of the model arena’s entrance driving their own separate robots, but were helping and sharing time and space with one another to prepare— showcasing the FIRST Robotics organizational promotion of “coopertition” and “gracious professionalism.”
While at this practice session on February 19, students, mentors, and coaches from both teams discussed the reasons they enjoy participating in robotics, their efforts so far this season, challenges encountered in this year’s arena, and their thoughts on the idea of “coopertition”
Coming off of a Minnesota State High School League state championship the previous season, Greenbush-Middle River (GMR) Robotics, team #5172, enters its fourth year, all under head coach Mary Anderson. Badger Robotics, team #3750, starts its seventh year, the first under head coach Val Truscinski. The GMR team has 46 students and the Badger Robotics team 17 students.
When asked what they both enjoy about being part of robotics, both pointed to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills it provides, ones they can use for the rest of their lives. Outside academics, this activity also teaches social skills and provides inclusion.
“(I enjoy) seeing kids grow in areas that you never thought that they would, from being timid and shy to speaking in front of adults and feeling confident in themselves and in their part of the program, that they are so excited to be a part of something and they’re confident that they’ve changed…,” Coach Anderson said.
Coach Truscinski added, “It includes every type of student. I mean you got the bookworms and you’ve got the athletes and you’ve got–we have one kid on our team who is legally blind. It includes everybody…”
Both team robots will compete in an arena called “STRONGHOLD”. The point of the game, GMR senior and team head driver John Langaas said, is to score fuel, or the wiffle balls, into high and low goals to build up pressure for the airship, get gears for the airship, and then climb a rope to attach to the airship.
“It’s kind of centered around the whole airship idea, where you’re getting it ready for liftoff and then at the end you got to climb aboard,” Langaas said.
Drivers discussed the difficulties this arena can pose. Langaas pointed to visibility challenges due to the two large airships in the middle of the arena. Both Langaas and Badger driver Kaeden Hietala also said lining up the gear peg to place it on the hook also poses some difficulty. A human player and builder in his first year on the GMR Robotics team, Kyle Stauffenecker will feed the robot gears and balls in the arena. He mentioned a challenge he may face in the arena–working with and getting along with other teams while competing in an “ intense” area.
Speaking of working together, those in FIRST Robotics express the ideas of “coopertition” and “gracious professionalism.” According to FIRST, “coopertition is displaying unqualified kindness and respect in the face of fierce competition.” In robotics, a team is not only facing or battling other robots but working with them and helping them also succeed. For example, a team may announce on a loud speaker at a competition that they need a part and then another team would respond and get that part for them. Or in the case of the practice session at DRB Fabrication last week, one team may allow the other time to run its robot alone in the arena to practice a skill.
“You help others be better or be the best they can be, so they can beat you is basically what it is,” Coach Val Truscinski said laughing, “because you might be with them, you might be against them, but I mean at competition, it’s just an amazing thing.”
To see the complete story, read the March 1 issue of The Tribune in print or online.