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GMR Robotics excited about recent success, look forward to future


photo used with permission
GMR Robotics student team members (L-R) Sawyer Strand, Berlyn Burkel, Holly Wiskow, Lauren Stenberg, and Ray Tarala stand with their robot at the Northern Lights Regional in Duluth, an event the team won to qualify for the FIRST Championship in Houston, April 20-23. Outside Stenberg and Tarala, this regional was the first robotics competition any of the team’s student members had participated in, thanks to FIRST’s two-year pandemic shutdown.

photo used with permission
Team 5172’s operator Berlyn Burkel (left), team drive coach John Langaas (center), and team driver Sawyer Strand (right) stand together behind the team’s robot at the regional in Duluth. Langaas continues to help the team as a mentor, one of several former student members continuing to give back to the program.

Several of Team 5172, GMR Robotics, team members mentioned to team mentor Mary Anderson how she forgot to bring the team’s blue banners to its first 2022 regional. These banners are awards given to teams for various FIRST Robotics competition achievements. She didn’t forget; her action was intentional.

“All the banners out there (in our shop) are Team 5172’s, but the people on this team are new and they need to experience what that feels like to gain their own and be their own people,” Anderson said. “And now they get to hang their blue banner… They might not have even recognized at the competition that there were blue banners in people’s pits, because it didn’t mean something to them. Now, it means something to them.”

The 2022 members of Team 5172 know exactly what it means, getting to experience their very own blue banner moment. Filled with new members, Team 5172 and its two alliance partners won the Northern Lights Regional in Duluth, ensuring a trip to the FIRST Championship in Houston, April 20-23.

Several team members talked about their feelings and reactions surrounding the Northern Lights Regional and getting to just compete, and what they’re looking forward to most as the season progresses.

After not seeing her team compete in just over two years due to the COVID pandemic, team mentor Mary Anderson talked about her feelings watching her team compete again, feelings surrounding that two-year shutdown, her reaction to the team’s regional win, the team’s upcoming regional in Grand Forks, and what she looks forward to most as the season continues.

At this year’s Duluth regional, the team brought with just two students who had competed before: Ray Tarala and Lauren Stenberg. An alliance captain on this year’s team, senior Lauren Stenberg had some nervous energy at this competition. Even though she was in her fourth year on the team, Stenberg competed on the game field for the first time at this Duluth regional.

“It was a long time coming,” Stenberg said. “… We’re basically starting from scratch since all of our seniors and juniors and all they’re gone. So (we’re) starting from scratch, but we came out good.”

Besides Stenberg and Tarala, the rest of the students had never competed at a FIRST competition, including the team’s driver Sawyer Strand and operator Berlyn Burkel, both sophomores.

“I thought it was a little nerve wracking,” Strand said, “because there’s a lot of rookies, including me, so I learned a lot there.”

Burkel said it was scary competing at first, but things got better throughout the regional. The regional took place March 2- 5 from the DECC Arena/Edmund Fitzgerald Exhibit Hall in Duluth, Minn.

“I think we were all really nervous,” Burkel said. “We’ve never really experienced a regional of any sort.”

“We didn’t really know what to expect,” Strand added.

In her first year on the team, freshman Holly Wiskow worked as a human player on Team 5172 and described having some nervous energy.

“Once you’re out there, it’s a lot less nerve-wracking,” Wiskow said. “… Everybody there is nice and helpful.”

Team mentor Anderson was also nervous to start with at the regional, feeling she was throwing her team members to the wolves— an experience they had not yet had. She wanted these new students to have the best experience, but felt unsure if they as mentors had prepared the students enough. The improvement she saw from the first to the last day proved evident— easing that nervousness.

“If we look at Wednesday to Saturday night, the growth individually was, you could see it,” Anderson said. “You could measure that by the smiles on their faces, by the score on the board, of course, but just their comfort level of being together and working with others and other teams.”

The students also came to appreciate the other teams around them, that “gracious professionalism” that FIRST promotes. For example, Team 5172 team members needed gears for their robot and a team from Becker, Minn., gave some to them. Also, Team 5172 had a joystick for another team— one that was on its alliance— that needed it and Team 5172 gave it to them to allow this fellow team to compete.

Speaking of help, Anderson thanked and recognized all the mentors, especially the younger mentors who lost their final years on the robotics team, such as Ryan Hlucny and Thor Anderson. Talking about that two-year period without competing, Anderson was devastated to see the students who were hurt by this shutdown, individuals who had a passion for robotics.

“They got everything ripped away from them and for them to turn around and give back… That takes pretty big people,” Anderson said, “because we’re all hurt and they lost the opportunity. And yet they want to support giving new kids (the opportunity.)”

Before the FIRST Championship in Houston, the GMR team will compete at the Great Northern Regional at the Alerus Center, March 24-26— the last place the team competed at before the shutdown. According to the most recent counts, the event will feature 50 teams, covering Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

The GMR team and the team out of Northwood, N.D., will host the event. The Greenbush American Legion Post #88 and Northwood Legion will present the colors for the National Anthem on Friday, March 25 at 8:30 am.

Sponsored by Boeing, this year’s FIRST game, “Rapid React,” centers on an airport theme. The Air Force, John Deere, Digi-Key, Marvin Windows and Doors, the UND Drone Cage, and the City of Grand Forks will be at this regional event, all having donated to it. The event is an open one in terms of masks, but they are welcomed.

Team 5172 itself has experienced success, having reached the FIRST Robotics Championship before, but for many on the team, they had never experienced their very own “blue banner” moments before their recent Duluth trip. They’re continuing the team’s tradition, but at the same time— aided by some of those from the past— making their own marks.

To see the complete story, read the March 16 issue of The Tribune in print or online.

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