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Mitch Evink, Paul Yager and Colin Ryan worked to modify the team's robot for competition.

Robotics team fares well in first-ever competition for JHS

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If attaching a swing-arm or programming a robot's mainframe is what interests you, then you'd be interested in what the Jefferson High School (JHS) FIRST Robotics team is up to.

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The inaugural team is made up of JHS students Samantha Anderson, Joe Basiago, Matt Burow, Mitch Evink, Zach Hodgson, Sam Johnson, Keegan Jorgensen, Mike Koel, Alexandra Konefal-Cholewa, Eric Nelson, Colin Ryan, Paul Strand, Jean-Luc VanSurksum and Paul Yager.

Team advisors and mentors include JHS Principal Chad Duwenhoegger, Todd Zarbok, Mark Evich and Bill Dinham.

The team only had a six-week time frame to build their robot. Starting January 9, the team met daily after school at Alexandria Technical College to build the robot.

With the final touches completed, the team competed with 63 other teams from around the country in the FIRST Robotics Minnesota Regional Competition at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis April 1-3.

The 2010 featured "game" was "Breakaway." At the competition, each team set up its robot for judging, making any necessary modifications the first day. The second day, each team became allies with two other teams and headed into competition.

During the first rounds of the competition, the teams maneuvered their robots over a 27-foot by 54-foot bumpy field, with various obstacles and unique terrains in an attempt to earn points by collecting soccer balls in their goals. Additional bonus points were earned for each robot not touching the field at the end of the match.

The third day of the event featured the finals, with the top teams battling for championship honors.

In its debut performance, the JHS team finished with the 12th highest scoring team score out of the total 63 teams and also was awarded with the 2nd highest amount of points scored for a first-year rookie team.

"The students and advisors worked hard together to come up with a finished robot for the competition," said Duwenhoegger. "The team combined many skills such as communication and collaboration to complete something that they were passionate about."

The team was supported financially by area businesses.

"ITW Heartland, Aagard, Brenton, Douglas Machines, Massman Automation Design and the Alexandria Technical College all banded together to fund the creation of our robot and the trip to the U of M," said Duwenhoegger.

JHS senior and captain of the FIRST Robotics team, Paul Yager, recalls many exciting aspects of the three-day event.

"It was quite an interesting process of setting up for the judges to clear our robot," he said. "There were some early modifications that had to be made that were a bit frustrating, but after that, the competition began and everything seemed to flow amazingly from there on."

With the first year over, the JHS team looks to make some changes and improvements for next year.

"More diversity amongst the team and community awareness is what we are aiming for," said JHS junior Zach Hodgson. "We want people with a boatload of talent on the team so that everyone can take part in creating the robot.

"The community also needs to be aware that creating the robot brings together much more than a piece of metal," he added. "Students can be involved and communicate with people that they may have never met before."

Making sure the community is aware of this worthwhile project is also important to Duwenhoegger.

"In a community that strives off of programming and specializing in much of the same things we are doing in FIRST Robotics, it is important that we maintain our awareness," he explained. "Businesses and adults need to realize that the skills that the FIRST Robotics team combines reflects the future of their education and even industry in Alexandria."

Still celebrating its recent success, the JHS FIRST Robotics team is excited to grow and expand the program next year.

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