Ellis takes top award at state VEX Robotics

Published 6:24 am Tuesday, February 5, 2019

A robotics team from Ellis Middle School in Austin took the “triple crown” of awards – including a state championship – at the Minnesota State VEX tournament held in St. Cloud Friday and Saturday.

Ellis Engineers Team A, as a result, earned the right to advance as Minnesota champions to the VEX Robotics World Competition in Louisville, Kentucky, in April.

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Team members, all from eighth grade, include Andrew Keenan, Katherine Diaz, Riley Eastvold, Emma Haugen, Jack Lang, Owen Carroll and Tommy Fritz.

“The kids are really excited,” said coach Tom Fritz, who added that it marked the first time an Ellis team earned the top spot.

“The triple crown” includes the team’s win of not only the championship, but the Excellence Award and the Skills Challenge Award.

Ellis A Team also joined Ellis B Team, whose members are seventh graders, in earning the Team Award, given for their demonstration of mutual respect and teamwork, according to Fritz.

Ellis Engineers Robotics Team B, seventh grade, from left, front, Abby VanPelt and Katie VanPelt; back, Levi Broberg, Blake VanPelt and Daniel Grush. Photos submitted

Ellis Team B earned a berth in the semifinals, but failed to advance to the championship round. Unfortunately, said Fritz, the team would have been in third or fourth place if the competition featured a consolation round. Those team members were Abby VanPelt, Katie VanPelt, Levi Broberg, Blake VanPelt and Daniel Grush.

Ellis Team A fired on all cylinders, so to speak, during the two-day contest whose theme was “Turning Point.” Teams were challenged to have their robot flip over items, such as flags and caps, which are color-coded, so that a robot must flip the item from its red side to a blue side. A more advanced cap challenge was not only flipping the item, but hanging it on a post as well.

Fritz said except for one team member, the team had been together since the fifth grade.

Fritz said the team’s talents are many – a simpler design of the team robot helped boost the squad in the ratings, which also showed its willingness to make necessary changes. That adaptability contributed to the win, he said.

Winning the Excellence Award was also a coup for the squad –not only is the robot evaluated for its overall performance, the team is scored on sportsmanship, the engineering, the decision-making process and an interview by judges.

“The kids did a really nice job; they showed a sense of teamwork, good communication and good collaboration,” Fritz said.

Also performing well were the I.J. Holton teams, coached by Kaylene Jensen. Team A earned the Build Award, given to the team that showed a well-crafted and constructed robot that showed a clear dedication to safety and attention to detail; while Team B won the Design Award, which demonstrated an organized and professional approach to the design process, project, time management and team organization.