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Robotics teams program to a new field: No season

Badger Robotics co-captain and driver Kennedy Truscinski— the only senior on the team— focuses in on the action during a match at the 2020 FIRST Robotics Great Northern Regional. (photo by Emily Wicklund)

The Badger and Greenbush-Middle River Robotics teams competed at the Great Northern Regional in Grand Forks, N.D., February 26-29. Falling short of World Championship berths, both teams understood that they would get another crack at it, having one more regional on their schedule to earn that berth— Badger’s in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and GMR’s at the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis— at the end of March.

The Great Northern Regional would prove to be the last scheduled event for these FIRST Robotics teams this season.

On March 12, they and all other robotics teams across the world would not get another chance—some not even getting their first chance— to test out their robots in competition and earn those world berths. The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, led FIRST to suspend the rest of the robotics season and cancel these World Championship events— the first scheduled for Houston, Texas, April 15-18, and the second for Detroit, Mich., April 28-May 2.

Local robotics students and mentors responded to this cancellation and explained how they plan to move forward from here.

Several robotics students reported feelings of sadness, among other emotions, upon learning about this announcement. Badger Robotics co-captain and co-driver and the team’s lone senior, Kennedy Truscinski first found out about this announcement in an email while in school.

“At first I didn’t know what to think about it. And then after a little bit, it all just set in knowing that I won’t ever have another robotics competition again, being I’m a senior,” Truscinski said. “And I kind of just started tearing up because I knew it was the end for me.”

GMR Robotics team senior Kyle Stauffenecker—working on the sponsorship and build teams— was shocked upon hearing the entire season was canceled.

“(For) all these teams that got to play just maybe one regional or a lot of teams (that) didn’t get to play a regional, they didn’t get to run their robot,” Stauffenecker said. “So it was really kind of shocking, kind of sad, I guess, in a way that you put all that time (in) and you didn’t even get to really put it to the test to see what it could do.”

The teams are left in limbo with just hopes. GMR Robotics Head Coach Mary Anderson said that once FIRST gets guidance from the state on what’s allowed, the hope is to later host some scrimmages on a complete field in Roseau County— potentially Greenbush— to give teams an opportunity to try out the new things on their robot and to build on relationships. She mentioned numerous teams for such an event, including GMR, Badger, Northwood (N.D.), Frazee, Thief River Falls, Stephen-Argyle, Roseau, and Warroad.

As for whether or not the annual Swamp Fest— a robotics event that the GMR team hosts in Greenbush during the summer— will take place this year, that remains yet to be seen. Anderson said the team has set a date for this event in July, but, depending on how this COVID-19 situation develops, it may move it to September.

Continuing to move forward, Anderson looks to help make the most out of this situation. She mentioned reaching out to Polaris to a do robotics week event, giving all four Roseau County robotics teams an opportunity to show and talk about their robots in ways they would have at competitions for judges. She also talked about connecting with Marvin Windows and Doors and Central Boiler as possible future visits.

Weeks following both local teams’ Great Northern Regional appearance, FIRST Robotics seasons everywhere were put on hold due to COVID-19 pandemic. Anderson highlighted how robotics is not alone during this uncertain time. For example, participation in all MSHSL spring activities has been suspended until Minnesota Governor Tim Walz lifts his school closure declaration.

“Right now, yeah, everything’s on hold,” Anderson said, “because we’re just like everybody else in the community, just kind of waiting.”

“small town ROBOT” Comes to Amazon Prime

“small town ROBOT,” a documentary about the GMR Robotics team by director and producer Joe Brandmeier, is now on Amazon Prime. The link to buy or rent it is provided below:

To see the complete story, read the April 1 issue of The Tribune in print or online.

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