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Cloquet rookie, Esko veteran teams compete at world robotics championship

Esko students of the SubZero Robotics team stand with their robot April 24 at the world championship in Detroit. Submitted photo1 / 3
Cloquet High School's robotics team, Ripsaw Robotics, traveled to Detroit last week to compete at the world championship as rookie team. Submitted photo2 / 3
Esko High School's robotics team, SubZero robotics, was one of two Carlton County robotics teams to compete at the world championships. Submitted photo3 / 3

Cloquet High School's rookie robotics team, Ripsaw Robotics, finished its first year with a trip to Detroit for the four-day world championship, as did Esko High School's veteran team, SubZero Robotics.

The two teams established a mentor-mentee relationship this season in which Esko provided support and advice to Cloquet's new team. Cloquet senior Abby Johnson said that's what the FIRST Robotics competitions are all about — teaming up with others.

"The point of going to worlds wasn't for a vacation; it wasn't even to win," Johnson said. "It was to see these other teams and learn from them and meet new people since there are so many countries represented there."

Ninth-grader Jake Mertz said Esko's team helped his team throughout the entire process, from every phase of building and into the competitions.

Ripsaw Robotics qualified to go to the world competition after it won the "Rookie All Star Award" in March at the regional competition in Duluth. The rookie team won about one-third of its 10 matches, Johnson said.

Still, the Cloquet team's robot played amazing defense, said high school English teacher and chaperone Rene Montgomery, who had experience chaperoning a world robotics championship for her daughter's team at Duluth East. She believes robotics is the best activity students can join.

"It doesn't matter if you're a straight- 'A' student or a 'C' student, or if you favor industrial arts or math class, it gives every student an opportunity to learn, grow and gain the skills they need to be successful in the future," Montgomery said. "There's competition, but you're cooperating with everybody because you want all teams to be good. The team you're going against one round might be your alliance the next round."

Johnson perceives robotics as more of a business team than a sports team. A robotics team is like a team with different departments, she said.

There's a department for people physically building the robot; designers; strategizers; communicators who put together information on the robot; and then there's the business side that includes looking for sponsorships and putting on fundraisers, which RipSaw Robotics is still doing to help cover the costs of going to the world championship.

"They raised a little bit of money, but they will be fundraising for quite a long time to cover this," Montgomery said. "They're really in need of getting some sponsors and mentors to work with the team, but it was an opportunity that the school district recognized that can't be missed."

Johnson, who will graduate this spring and attend the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in the fall, said she learned a few things from attending the world championship that she would like her team to carry into the following years, like someday start teaching younger kids about science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM.

"With other teams, you'll see them hosting camps to teach kids about STEM and I think that's amazing," Johnson said. "Not only would we be teaching kids who are on the team, the team would also be teaching other kids in the community. That's what other teams are doing."

Mertz, on the other hand, has three more years of robotics ahead of him. He's excited to put what he learned at the championship into practice next year.

"I personally learned a lot by simply looking at our competitors' robots, and asking about how specific components operate," Mertz wrote in an email to the Pine Journal.

Andee Erickson

Andee Erickson has been a reporter with the Pine Journal since November 2018. She studied journalism and geography at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, while working at the Leader-Telegram newspaper on weekends. She graduated in 2018. Erickson's from southern Minnesota, but started viewing the north as home after interning for the Duluth News Tribune in the summer of 2017.