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Perham robotics team prepares for major competition

From left, David Altstadt, Calvin Sailor and Isaac Rutten, members of the Perham High School Jacketbots. The students will compete in Duluth on March 10-12. Photo by Ashley Bergen.

Student engineers are taking sporting events to all new heights.

The Perham High School robotics team, the Jacketbots, will be competing next week with a robot that students built in six weeks.

The Jacketbots will compete at the regional level on March 10-12 in Duluth, Minn.

The FIRST Robotics Competition, which is aimed at grades 9-12, combines sport with science and technology. The students work with teachers, professional engineers, corporate sponsors and more to create a robot for competition.

Mentor for the Perham program, Chris Happel, explained that at the three-day competition, the robots will play short games. The students program and remotely control the robots in competition rounds on the field. Up to 70 teams compete at the regional level, and some teams have close to 60 participants, Happel said.

Judges evaluate teams and present awards for design, technology and sportsmanship.

"Teams are even awarded points for helping out other teams," Happel said. "There's a real spirit of camaraderie."

Each team receives a kit of parts and has six weeks to build the robot.

The robot can't be taller than 60 inches or weigh more than 120 pounds. This year's competition is called Logo Motion. Teams are first placed into alliances. Logo Motion is played by two competing alliances on a flat field. Each alliance has three robots and they compete to hang as many inflated plastic shapes onto a grid as they can in a two minute match. The higher the alliances hang the shapes, the more points they earn.

The match ends with robots deploying minibots, small electro-mechanical assemblies, onto vertical poles. The minibots race to the top of the pole to trigger a sensor and earn bonus points.

Past games have included programming and building robots to kick a soccer ball into a goal. Team member Isaac Rutten said they didn't know what to expect at last year's competition but it was a good learning experience as it was a first for the Perham team.

"We learned a lot," he said. "But it was pretty fun. High energy, techno music. Plus all the teams helped each other, which was cool. It wasn't ruthless, all-out matches."

Nationwide, there are 48 regional events, one state championship, seven district competitions and one championship to be held April 27-30 in St. Louis.

The U.S. program expects to pull in 55,000 student engineers this year, up to 2,300 teams, 30,000 mentors and more than 3,000 sponsoring companies.

Perham will be competing with teams from Chicago, Brainerd, Crookston, Mankato, Wadena, Minneapolis, Staples and Rochester.

Funding for the program this year in Perham came from sponsors such as The Pentair Foundation, Douglas Machine of Alexandria, the 549 Foundation and Barrel O' Fun.

The team of about 10 students also benefited from the expertise of staff at Kit Masters in Perham with the manufacturing of the robot.

Perham's unnamed robot was sent to Duluth last week, and the team will have a day before the competition to work out the kinks before the big show.

Even though last year was a learning experience, the students say it was pretty exciting. The arena is full of people cheering, teams are dressed up in costumes and the announcer performs like the event was a pro-wrestling match.

The Perham-Dent team will be losing some seniors this year, and is hoping to recruit some more team members for next year's competition.

Students competing include Isaac Rutten, Calvin Sailor, Andrew Waldon, Trevor Meece, David Altstadt, Hector Ramirez, Cyrus Bickell, Nic Carrigan, Austin Paul and Evan Arvig.