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Park robotics team ready to compete at state

The Park High School robotics team is gunning for another state championship this Saturday.

Team 3883 Data Bits will compete against 30 other school-built ‘bots at the Minnesota State High School League’s State Robotics Tournament at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. They won the inaugural state championship in 2012.

“I want to be surprised about what’s going to happen,” said team member and Park senior Michael Nguyen, 17, of Cottage Grove. “It’s not a nervous kind of feeling but an excited kind of feeling.”

Nguyen, who said he plans to major in mechanical engineering in college, said there’s a lot of camaraderie and teamwork that went into building their robot, which they dubbed Sonic Hedge-Bot.

“The teammates are very open,” he said. “My first day joining, everyone was going ballistic in a happy kind of way. They’re not afraid to show who they are. The mentors and teachers, they’re very welcoming. “

Sonic Hedge-Bot doesn’t fit the popular conception of a robot. It looks more like the offspring of a catapult and a shopping cart. Sonic was designed and constructed by students during a league-mandated six-week “build period” that began in January.

The team has about a dozen adult mentors, including coach and lead mentor James Huber, of Cottage Grove.

“Our mentors, they do such a wonderful job with the kids,” said Mike Simurdiak, a chemistry teacher at Park and a robotics team advisor.

Once the six-week building period expired on Feb. 18, league rules dictated that the team bag the robot and put it in storage. Last Saturday, they were given a maximum six “unbagged hours” to adjust or make minor modifications, Simurdiak said.Then it was back in the bag. They won’t be able to unbag Sonic until Saturday’s tournament begins.

“We can’t touch it,” Simurdiak said.

During Saturday’s state tournament, Team 3883 Data Bits will compete in a series of matches, each pitting one three-team alliance of robots against another.

They qualified for state in March at the the Lake Superior Regionals in Duluth.