FAIRMONT – For the first time, Fairmont High School’s robotics team is going to state. The team’s standout showing at the Northern Lights Regional competition in Duluth in early March, in which it placed 4th out of 53 teams, led to the state invite.
Sam Viesselman, the team’s lead mentor, explained that a universal point system is used and that there were six competitions throughout the state so they wouldn’t know for sure if they qualified until all of the events were done. The top 36 out of 190 teams in Minnesota would go to the state competition.
Fairmont’s team ended up 5th overall in the point system.
The state competition will take place May 6 and 7 at Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis.
“They convert the basketball court into a robotics playing field. All of the spectators get to sit in the seats as if they’re watching a collegiate basketball game, ” Viesselman said.
Fairmont’s team is made up of about 14 students grades 9 through 12. Viesselman said they knew there was a good chance they’d be done after the Duluth competition in early March. Since they’re continuing on, the team has still been practicing a few times a week to fix and upgrade its robot.
Viesselman is hopeful all of the students and mentors can attend the state competition although he noted that it’s a busy time in the school year. He said that about 85 percent of robotics students are also into a spring sport.
All robotics teams are through FIRST robotics so they’ve all had the same challenge this year. FIRST stands for For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. However, the state competition is through the Minnesota State High School League.
“I think what’s really cool about the state high school league having a state robotics competition is that they’re elevating that science and technology part as if it’s just as important as any other high school activity,” Viesselman said.
He said while it’s not a traditional sport, there’s speech, knowledge bowl and math league and he’d like to see robotics get to that same level of establishment and respect as it’s equally as important.
Viesselman pointed out that there are no classes in robotics as far as single A or double AA so the team has been up against teams from much larger school districts. He said with robotics it’s not so much the size of your school or team, but the strength of its problem solving skills.
“A small group of dedicated people who have some good ideas and good work ethic can put something on the field that’s just as competitive as large schools,” he said.
In fact the Greenbush Middle River School district, from a small town in northern Minnesota of about 800 people, is ranked first in the state. Viesselman said they’ve won multiple state championships.
Some other schools attending state include St. Peter and Maple River.
Viesselman said normally Fairmont’s team would have qualified for the world competition, which will take place in Houston, TX, but because of Covid restrictions fewer teams are being accepted this year.
Speaking of the significance and importance of a school activity like robotics, Viesselman said, “All of the great things you get from sports, how to work together, consistency and dedication, you get all of those things, but you’re also learning real world skills that you can apply to a future career.”
That’s true for Fairmont student Aiden Nelson who has been on the team since his 7th grade year. Now a junior, Nelson said he plans to pursue an education in the STEM field after he’s through his high school years.
Nelson said he has too many good memories with the team to count but the most exciting one was being ranked so high at the Dululth competition.
“I’m looking forward to being able to compete against some better teams and see what other teams from around the state are like.” Nelson said.
Sophomore Amanda Poetter was a new addition to the team this year. Poetter shared that she was actually offered a media job for the robotics team so she manages the team’s social media pages and website, in addition to building and operating the robot.
“I’ve always been a part of STEM programs and STEM camps so they’ve always been a prevalent thing throughout my school career,” Poetter said.
She expressed excitement about making it to state during her first year on the team and shared that she plans to continue to be on the team going into next school year.
Fairmont High School’s robotics team was started in 2009. It is partnered with Project 1590’s subcommittee, Martin County KnowHow and is sponsored by area businesses and foundations.