Nearly 1,000 Minnesota high school students battled it out at the Williams Arena Sports Pavilion last weekend for the FIRST State Robotics Championship.
The 7th annual state tourney featured 30 teams from across the state — 13 metro & 17 greater — competing in a series of three on three robotics competitions. The goal was to outmaneuver opponents bots and launch balls for points and the win.
The intensity was as real as any other competition, just swap the inanity of physical sports for the intellectualism of mental ones, and it’s game on.
In 2012, the tournament became fully sanctioned by the Minnesota State High School League, recognized and governed just as any other high school sport.
“We now have 186 robotics teams in Minnesota compared to about 150 varsity school boys hockey teams,” says Mark Lawrence, Chairman of the MN First Planning Committee and mentor to Edina’s “Green Machine” team 1816. “We also have the highest per capita student penetration nationwide.” The regional chapter has been around for over two decades, but it wasn’t until the mid 2000’s that things began to pick up with each school organically forming their own teams. Statewide participation is up around 5,000.
What’s equally interesting as the STEM skills acquired through the FIRST Robotics Competition are the intangibles. Each team is run like a little company inside the schools; there’s a financial commitment in terms of an initial kit, there’s ongoing tools, supplies and transportation needs. Even marketing has its role when it comes to the branding, websites, and mascots.
Some teams charge the members and some are subsidized in part of full by sponsorship, but all of them manage a budget, make their schedules and harness brainpower in the same fashion a business would.
Building to this point hasn’t been easy for the retired engineer and his counterparts from Minnesota FIRST Regionals who understand that strong science and engineering skills are essential for Minnesota to keep up -or- get ahead of the innovation curve. Instead of disconnecting from his roots, Lawrence has been digging them deeper over his past nine years of focused volunteer commitment.
“Science and Technology was good to me,” he says. “I’d like to see all students in Minnesota have that same opportunity.”