By Angela Stigeler
The Caledonia Argus
For all their accomplishments, it’s easy to forget that the Caledonia Robotic Warriors FRC Team #5914 is still fairly new. It was just back in 2016 when they clenched the Minnesota North Star Regional Rookie All-Star Award and went on to their first World Championship competition in St. Louis, MO. From that wildly successful first season, the team has grown and changed, saying goodbye to founding coach James Larson as well as several students who have graduated from Caledonia High School and gone on to pursue college and career options. The young team has welcomed new members, new mentors, and last year, under the leadership of Coach Mike Konkel, made their third trip in the span of four seasons to the world competition, which since 2017 has been hosted in Detroit, MI. Said Coach Konkel, “I’m proud as heck to be part of something so strong.”
Since the Robotic Warriors’ beginnings, they’ve embraced their underdog status, often going up against veteran teams with extensive financial resources and numerous seasoned mentors in various fields. As the Robotic Warriors’ mentors are quick to point out, “what our competitors’ teams do with state-of-the-art equipment, we do with a hacksaw and a file,” said Konkel. And they continue to get the job done.
Now, at the start of their fifth season, the team is looking to up their game. With a strong core of students dedicated to the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), the Robotic Warriors are building on their skills in several areas. For the first time, the team will be designing and building their robot with a custom frame, and relying more heavily on Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software to plan and create parts for their build. Several members of the team took advantage of a week-long CAD training course over the summer, hosted by Ashley Furniture of Arcadia, who is a sponsor of some area robotic programs. This kind of training expands the possibilities for the team and helps equip these students with some solid skills for their future. In order to make use of their training, the team needs to invest in a new 3D printer, which will be an additional expense for the team.
Robotic Warriors Add FTC Team
Another exciting area of growth for our students is this season’s launch of the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) team. Under the umbrella of FIRST competitions, this team will be building a smaller robot and competing on a smaller playing field. This new team is available for middle school students and will be an important bridge from the FIRST Lego League to the FRC team. To make the analogy with other competitive student activities, the FTC team will act much like a JV team, giving junior high students a chance to play a main role in their own build season and competitions. Coached by Jeff Babinski, the new FTC team will be mentored by the FRC team and supported by the same booster club and fundraising efforts as the high school robotics team. This important step in expanding robotics education in our area helps to further the mission and vision first set forth with the FIRST Lego League programming headed by Sheri Allen, who has been instrumental in getting these programs off the ground.
Community Support is Key to Success
As the members, mentors, and boosters are quick to point out, the team wouldn’t be where they are today without the help of the many organizations and individuals in our area who generously donate to the program. In addition to their fall sponsor drive, a major fund-raising event is coming up next month with the team’s annual Open House. Slated for Sunday, November 10 from 11am until 2pm or as long as supplies last, the event will be held in the Caledonia High School commons and will feature a Big Boar pulled pork meal and free-will donation bake sale. During that time, community members are encouraged to come in for a student-led tour of the robotics room to see what it’s all about. Order forms for team spirit-wear will also be on hand for anyone looking to display their support of our local team or give items as gifts. Meal tickets are available for advanced purchase from robotics team members and the booster club. To reserve tickets in advance, contact the group through the Caledonia Robotic Warriors FRC Team #5914 Facebook page.