Park High School robotics team basking in state championshipThe Park High School Data Bits robotics team is still enjoying life at the top after winning the first Minnesota State High School League Robotics Tournament.
By: Judy Spooner, South Washington County Bulletin
The Park High School Data Bits robotics team is still enjoying life at the top after winning the first Minnesota State High School League Robotics Tournament.
Only two other extracurricular activities at Park, girls soccer and boys golf, can claim a state tournament win. The school’s One-Act play has also won top state honors but not in an elimination system.
Data Bits, also known as Team 3883, thanked two of their largest contributing sponsors last week with trips to the 3M plant in Cottage Grove and the J.C. Penney store in Woodbury to show off their winning robot that was built to propel basketballs through hoops. They also wore their gold medals, which they won at the tournament May 19 at the University of Minnesota.
Through FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a national robotics program for students, Park’s team competed for the first time last year and won top rookie team honors. Woodbury and East Ridge high school teams were already in their second year along with the Math and Science Academy.
Park placed 16th out of 163 teams in FIRST competition in March. That, and an earlier overall win in regional competition in Duluth, earned them an invitation to the state tournament along with 27 other high school teams, Jim Huber, the team’s technical advisor and mentor, said.
Huber said he wondered after the Duluth win whether the team could keep up its momentum. “But they did,” he said at the 3M stop last week.
“I still can’t believe it,” said team member Steven Matheny. “The next day, I was still shaking from the adrenaline.”
One reason Data Bits won, over other teams with many more mentors and resources, is that they work well as a team, said Bob Bergan, the Park technical education teacher and mentor who started the team. He said it takes a mix of “motorheads” and some kids who are good at science and others at math.
“If you had all rocket scientists, you’d never get anything done,” he said. “I’m very proud of these kids.”
The team started out in 20th place in the state tournament, Huber said, and gradually climbed into first place for the last 20 rounds.
“We kinda knew we were in the lead,” said Chris Braun, who drives the robot using a joystick. “We were on defense the whole time. Our first round was our worst but we still won it.”
Teachers recognized team members the following week in class, which was appreciated, but the team really shined during the spring sports pep fest when all the students stood up when they entered the gym with the robot. They shot basketballs into the bleachers to the delight of the students.
“It takes a lot of teamwork,” Braun said. “There wasn’t anybody on the team we hated. We were one big family.”
Chris’s father, Rodney, an engineer, was also a mentor for the team. Even though Chris is graduating, he plans to stay active with the team.
Vicente Fulgencia is the robot programmer and being a member of the team has changed his thinking process.
“Every time I play a video game now, I try to figure out how it works,” he said. “It’s weird.”
Braun said he’s learned, in his two years on the team, that there are many ways to solve a problem and get things done.
Matheny said he’s more social than before he joined the team.
“I came out of my shell,” he said. “Plus, I’m better at problem solving.”
The team will be at the Minnesota State Fair in the education building demonstrating the robot, said Huber, who plans to return next year.
Nine of the 12 team members are graduating and 80 percent are going into engineering, Huber said, adding that he wants to grow the team to 30 members next year.
Minnesota has the third-largest number of robotics teams in the nation, Huber said, behind Michigan, with its auto industry, and California because of its size.
The team will continue to meet next year but the excitement of getting ready for FIRST competition begins in January when rules for the next robot games are released.