Throwing stars to state; Three, count ‘em three robotics teams reach the state tournament
Published 10:51 am Monday, November 28, 2016
Three of Austin’s VEX Robotics teams qualified for the state tournament last weekend, during a 31-team regional tournament held at Mankato East High School.
A team of eighth graders from Ellis Middle School, sixth graders from I.J. Holton Intermediate School, and an Austin Area home-schooled team all earned the honor. The teams will compete Feb. 3 and 4 at St. Cloud.
The eighth graders from Ellis were veterans of the competition, having qualified last year as seventh graders. Ellis has two teams, but this year’s seventh grade team was not able to qualify. Members of the home-schooled team, called “Imperial George,” are freshmen to seniors in high school.
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The I. J. Holton sixth graders earned the Excellence Award for the tournament, the highest award presented, and the most prestigious, said adviser Kaylene Jensen.
“They did a phenomenal job,” she said, adding that to earn the award, team members had to excel in numerous categories. It is the first time an Austin team has earned the award. The honor is even more astounding since the kids had no prior experience “and they were competing against high schoolers,” she said.
This year’s competition theme was “Star Struck.” Students were challenged to build a robot that could throw foam stars and blocks to different distances on a 12-by-12 field. Points were scored and added to decide the winner.
While the robot is made from a kit, its abilities are unique to how the robot is built, tweaked and adjusted by each team, Ellis advison Tom Fritz said.
Fritz said his Ellis Engineers team’s ability to adapt and adjust during the competition was a key to its win. The allegiance to constantly working on the robot “allowed us to be more consistent,” he said. The team earned a Judge’s Award for their efforts.
Jensen said her team — called the “Holton Engineers” — “really followed the design process for their robot and continued to modify their design, based on their testing.”
As a result, “they did not have a single breakdown,” she said. Receiving the award automatically qualified the team for state competition.
Imperial George adviser Steve Kubas said the students, from freshmen to seniors, “were really excited” to land a state berth. Perseverance was a key, he said.
“They tried a few different designs — some that they finally couldn’t use,” Kubas said. Then, he said, they identified a fork-lift design that proved to be the one to adopt, he said. The students’ studies of the process paid off, he added.
Teams are always looking for sponsors, said Fritz, and there is a cost to competing. Anyone who would like to donate to the team can do so by contacting team advisers.