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Progress: All the right moves

Red Wing High School team took its robot to Duluth where 57 other teams brought their robots to compete for a chance to go to the national competition in St. Louis in April. Earlier this month the team earned the Rookie All Star Award, which guaranteed them a spot in the national competition. (Photo courtesy of Bennett Carson)1 / 7
1: Red Wing High School robotics team received its build kit at a kickoff celebration in January. The first steps included cataloging the parts and assembly of the drive base. Most of the work is done with power tools and lays the groundwork for the rest of the build.2 / 7
2: Coding is another integral part of the building process. Those in charge of coding are responsible for researching and developing the software for the robot. The team used LabVIEW, which is a drag-and-drop program, and the FIRST Robotics Competition template.3 / 7
One of the construction steps is the wiring of the circuit board. The board must be designed, and communication with hardware and software is crucial since it bridges both groups. (Photos courtesy of Bennett Carson)4 / 7
4: The team puts the assembled robot through some practice runs to test whether it can perform the necessary tasks. Picking up, passing and catching the ball was tested and adjustments were made as weaknesses were determined. (Republican Eagle photo by John R. Russett)5 / 7
5: As the team put the robot through its paces, small parts needed to be changed and repaired. The process was ongoing until mid-February, when the robot had to be bagged and sealed for competition. The robot was taken apart and put back together multiple times throughout the build. (Republican Eagle photo by John R. Russett)6 / 7
Once the team got closer to the finished product it was time for some of the finer points to be addressed. Brenan Kelly grinds down the bolts on the bottom of the robot during one of the last practices before the robot was bagged for competition. (Republican Eagle photo by John R. Russett)7 / 7

In the halls of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center judges were lining up to talk to Team 5299, and coach Don Fricke had no idea why.

Judge after judge continued to stop by throughout the day on March 6.

A veteran coach, whose team was set up next to Fricke’s, pulled him aside.

He leaned over and whispered to Fricke, “Something good is going to happen to you.”

Red Wing — Dec. 2

Brian Cashman, gifted and talented coordinator for Red Wing Public Schools, stood in front of the School Board explaining the need for a robotics team at Red Wing High School.

Cashman said he was certain there would be an interested group of students who would really take advantage of a program of this sort.

“I don’t see a downside. It’s a good opportunity for a lot of kids,” said Chair Heidi Jones.

The motion to approve the team passed unanimously.

In a coffee shop days later a group of Red Wing students discussed the possibility of their first season as a robotics team.

Red Wing High School had its first robotics team and Team 5299 – nicknamed Winger Tech – had its start.

The team trekked to the University of Minnesota on Jan. 4 for the kickoff event, which started the building season, and had six weeks to complete a robot and have it ready for competition.

Duluth – March 8

Mia Zurawski was the last in line. She was running down the stairs in the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center so fast she accidently tripped teammate Morgan Wyatt, grabbed him by the shirt and barely kept him from falling.

Zurawski, Winger Tech safety captain, wasn’t expecting a moment like this, a moment of recognition in front of the crowd with all eyes on her first-year team.

The second-smallest team at the competition had just been called down to accept the Rookie All Star Award, which comes with an invitation to the national competition in St. Louis.

Red Wing – March 10

Sitting just a few feet from the room where the first robotics discussions took place, this time discussing a plan for nationals, Zurawski remembered her initial expectations.

“When we were in that room I didn’t think that we were going to get anywhere,” she said. “I feel like I’m in a dream.”

Jacob Langer, pit captain, said the reality of what a trip to nationals would mean still hasn’t sunk in.

“This is a representation of how hard we’ve worked throughout the entire season,” Langer said.

Moving forward

The team has certainly grown throughout the year and Fricke said they came by it naturally.

“They’ve learned leadership, responsibility, teamwork, self-confidence, all those things,” he said.

Even with nationals looming the team has a focus beyond the end of this season – they want to see the team grow in the years to come.

Bennett Carson, lead scout for Winger Tech, put together a PowerPoint presentation and is in the process of showing it to seventh- and eighth-grade classes in the hopes of inciting interest from potential future teammates.

Carson also said he would like to start a summer program, maybe with an affiliation to summer camp.

The team is also working on getting a website put together, along with social media, to help spread the word about what the robotics team is all about.

“We all learned a lot, we all grew, we all kind of came out of our shell,” Carson said. “It was really fun.”

Carson said minutes after learning they had an invitation to nationals he was thinking about how to get there.

“I wanted to call Red Wing Shoe and ask if we could use their private jet to go to St. Louis and arrive in style,” he said.

This team, however, has already arrived. And this is only the beginning of good things to come.

This story originally appeared in part 1 of the 2014 Red Wing Republican Eagle Progress Edition, titled Start to Finish. The three-part series features local businesses, artisans and community groups describing their step-by-step processes. 

John R. Russett

John Russett is a regional reporter for RiverTown Multimedia, covering a variety of issues facing RiverTown communities. Previously, he worked at the Red Wing Republican Eagle, where he reported on education as well as crime and courts. 

You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnRyanRussett


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