Como “BEASTBot” qualifies for state robotics tournament

Members of the Como Robotics team and their robot “Sparky” at the 10,000 Lakes Regional Competition April 9. You can find out what happened at the state tournament at www.beastbot2855.com.

Members of the Como Robotics team and their robot “Sparky” at the 10,000 Lakes Regional Competition April 9. You can find out what happened at the state tournament at www.beastbot2855.com.

Como Park Robotics, branded as Como “BEASTBot 2855” is one of 200 teams in the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) Robotics Activity. The top 30 teams in various regional competitions advance to the state tournament based on a formula that includes robot and marketing performance.

With a strong performance at the 10,000 Lakes Regional, held at Williams Arena in early April, Como’s BEASTBot made it to state for the first time since the program began in 2009.

If you didn’t know that there was a high school robotics league, you aren’t alone. But the 24 Como Park students who make up this year’s team are part of a rapidly growing activity that the MSHSL officially sanctions in the same way that it oversees soccer, basketball, track and dozens of other sports.

The “game” of robotics is to build a robot that can perform challenges in an elaborate, thematic setting that is the same for all competing teams. This year’s challenge was called “Stronghold.”

Trying to explain the technical details of Stronghold is no easy task. Robots must be built to maneuver around a field, lift and propel objects, and extend vertically.

There are fortresses, boulders, towers and alliances. The three-minute video shown to all competing teams in January may be worth a viewing for those who would like a visual. Go to https://youtu.be/VqOKzoHJDjA.

Ingenuity, creativity, cooperation and resourcefulness are essential to a successful experience in robotics. So is leadership. That comes from a variety of sources. The traditional title of “coach” is used interchangeably with “mentor” in the Como Robotics world.

During an intensive six-week build season, Como teachers Donna Norberg and Mike Fischer serve as mentors to the BEASTBot students as they develop, build and refine their machine. Former Como principal Dan Mesick volunteers as a third official mentor.

The mentors plan, coordinate, advise and encourage the team during the build stage, but the real development and implementation of design strategies is all student-driven. Additionally, each team member takes leadership of a specific need area and specializes in a role to help the complex activity become more manageable.

Task specialization is essential, but the team’s best work comes from collaboration, said senior and co-captain Evan Hulick. “Together we can have all those talents combine and different ideas and it turns out to be something amazing,” he said.

Junior and co-captain Marie Wulff plans to major in engineering in college. A varsity soccer player, Wulff said robotics is empowering for her teammates. “It has been a beacon of light in contributing to the self-confidence of many,” she said.

Como BEASTBot members and mentors are unified and proud of their effort this season, and when they left Williams Arena on April 9, they were satisfied with their performance in the Stronghold challenge.

They knew they had scored well and were going to place higher than previous years, but point totals are combined with other elements, so results aren’t immediately clear at the end of the competition.

“When we realized that we had gotten in [to state], students were elated and immediately started planning how to fix the robot for its final competitive appearance,” Norberg said.

In addition to the mentors and co-captains, the full BEASTBot roster includes seniors Garret Yzaguirre, Chrys Sowards, Leo O’Ryan, Drew Seabold and Chris Ngo; juniors Theo Axtell-Adams, Andrew Cardoza, Ethan Helmer, Max Narvaez, Drake Sutta, Jack Swartz, Jade Waldemann and Hunter Waldemarsen; sophomores Dylan Brady, Lah Htoo, Vincent Portuese, Thomas Quinn and Aurelio Sandoval; and freshmen Ben Bogie, Hannah Lender and Peter Schik.

Sophomore Isaac Schneider won’t be at state with his teammates due to the devastating injuries he suffered when a bus struck him in a crosswalk on Thursday, May 5.

The BEASTBot team was shocked and saddened to learn of Schneider’s accident, as was the entire Como community. While Isaac suffered through surgeries in the hospital, his comrades were honoring him by keeping him connected and pursued their plan to stream the state tournament from Mariucci Arena to Isaac’s hospital bed so he could see it all unfold.

The Como Robotics team was already inspired. Faced with a new unanticipated challenge, the state tournament on May 21 was a challenge that took on an even higher level of meaning for the members of Como BEASTBot.

“State has already held a great meaning to our team,” Wulff said. “With Isaac it means more—him being our team spirit.”

 

Eric Erickson is a social studies teacher at Como Park High School and a longtime coach of school and youth sports in St. Paul.

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