photo by Ryan Bergeron With the camera on her, senior student Emily McLean talks with producer and director Joe Brandmeier as part of a documentary highlighting the Greenbush-Middle River Robotics team. Brandmeier drove six hours from the Twin Cities to meet with students, mentors, community members, and GMR Superintendent Tom Jerome in mid-April, just days after finding about the team’s story on the front page of the Sunday, April 15 issue of the Star Tribune.
photo by Ryan Bergeron GMR Robotics team member Kyle Stauffenecker talks with producer and director Joe Brandmeier on camera as part of a documentary highlighting the team. Producer and director Joe Brandmeier and his wife Joan Steffend sat inside their suburban Twin Cites home in Edina, trapped by a winter storm for a couple days. They were going through the Sunday, April 15 issue of the Star Tribune—the same issue that labeled this storm hitting southern Minnesota at the time as ‘historic.’
A former KARE 11 co-anchor and co-host of the HGTV show, ‘Decorating Cents,’ and an author, Joan noticed a story in the bottom right corner of the paper’s front page, one about the Greenbush-Middle River Robotics team, also known as Team #5172. She told her husband about the story and they started talking about it. Just days and a few calls and emails later, Brandmeier headed six hours north to visit with team members, mentors, GMR Superintendent Tom Jerome, and community members to find out what this small town northwestern Minnesota robotics team was all about and showcase it through a documentary.
Brandmeier and the writer of that Star Tribune story, John Reinan, shared their thoughts on this team and why they decided to highlight it, and some of the GMR students and their advisor Mary Anderson talked about how this publicity surrounding their team has felt. They all also discussed what they hope people learn from their team through these media sources.
“I think it’s a great people story. I’m a huge fan of up north–northern Minnesota, Wisconsin– so it was a combination of the (Star Tribune) article, what draws my curiosity, my passion, and then the time frame,” Brandmeier said during an April 18 interview, explaining why he traveled north to do this documentary.
The time frame Brandmeier was referring to involved meeting with the team and others involved with it prior to the World Competition the team advanced to, scheduled for April 25-28 in Detroit. Besides the footage he shot up north, John would meet up with the team in the Twin Cities—during a stop along its charter bus trip to the World Competition—to shoot some documentary footage and made the trip to the Cobo Center in Detroit to shoot more team footage at the World Competition.
As for his trip north, Brandmeier spent time visiting and shooting documentary footage at the school in Greenbush with Superintendent Tom Jerome, Head Team Advisor Mary Anderson, and student team members. GMR Robotics senior team member Emily McLean had the opportunity to speak with Brandmeier.
Honored, but yet nervous at first, to speak with him, McLean discussed FIRST Robotics in general, the reason she joined it, her excitement in going to Detroit and the health issues she has had to overcome in her life.
“I wasn’t able to be in other sports, so this (robotics) was another opportunity for me,” McLean said.
Brandmeier visited with mentor Doug Hlucny and his son and senior team member Robert Hlucny at the family’s rural Greenbush shop. Robert said that he and Brandmeier discussed what robotics meant to him and the relationship he and his father have developed with one another on the team.
The documentary movie man also talked with community member Stanley Melby at the Twins Rock’n 50’s Café in Greenbush, discussing his involvement with the team through the legion.
From these people, Brandmeier learned about the passion they all have for robotics and the many team members’ excitement for the upcoming World Competition, seeing their eyes light up and their sitting posture grow taller when talking about it all.
“They’re excited about the whole concept and about where things have come, even about the (Star Tribune) article that came out the other day,” Brandmeier said. “…I think it’s the positive things that people are rallying around versus often we rally around negative things. And I think there’s enough negative stuff out there that this is just a little peek of positivity and I think people can grab on to that.”
Star Tribune writer Reinan also saw this same enthusiasm during his visit with the team, including from students, mentors, and community members, on February 19. Asked about what he found most unique, he pointed first to the “impressive” community pride around the team.
“I can just see the spirit in the kids and the parents and the people in the community who are volunteering, people who, like Donnie Brekke, who lets them use his shop and Doug Hlucny, who helps them build it (the robot), and all the other people,” Reinan said. “I mean I just named those two, but I’ve talked to at least 10 people in my very short time here who are involved in some way and you can just tell how proud they are and how much it means to them to see their kids shine like this.”
For the full story, read the May 16 issue of The Tribune in print or online. Also, watch for coverage in an upcoming Tribune issue about the Badger and Greenbush-Middle River robotics teams’ time at the Minnesota State High School League State Robotics Tournament on May 19 at the Mariucci Arena on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis.