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Frisbee Flinging Robots Hit the DECC

Posted at: 03/08/2013 6:16 PM
By: Travis Dill
tdill@wdio.com

Nearly 100 teams from across the Midwest are competing in the FIRST Robotics Competition this weekend at the DECC.

Ratchets and power tools are the equipment for these high school athletes. Organizer Mark Lawrence said robotics has become bigger than hockey in Minnesota.

“We now have more teams than varsity hockey. So for varsity hockey there's 156 teams in the state and we're now at 180 and still growing. We'll probably be over 200 next year,” Lawrence said.

He said the atmosphere can get just as rowdy at their competitions.

“The same enthusiasm that you'd find at a hockey tournament you find at these events,” Lawrence said.

Duluth East has experience at the competition. Freshman Anna Karas said teams are helpful in the pits, but it is a different story when they get in the arena.

“It's very stiff, the competition is very steep. It's nerve racking sitting in the stands, 'Oh, I hope we get to the feeder station on time,'” Karas said.

She said it is stressful because there's so much that goes into shooting frisbees into goals across the arena.

The sport is spreading in the Northland too. There are now three other Duluth schools with robotics teams, and this competition is the first for the Two Harbors team.

Two Harbors Co-captain Dan O'Neil said he didn't know what to expect.

“Then I show up here with 50 other teams that are so into it, and it's just been amazing, the energy here and the real-life skills we've learned building this thing,” O'Neil said.

He said those skills in everything from engineering to computer programing make the sport a resume builder.

“Someone once told me that robotics is the only sport where every single person can go professional after high school. I definitely believe in that,” O'Neil said.

The high-intensity matches on Friday were just qualifiers. The action will continue on Saturday when eight teams battle for the championship.