Redwood area community members who have not yet watched the Redwood Valley High School robotics team compete are missing out on something special.

Those who have watched the competition’s broadcast have had an amazing opportunity to see a thrilling contest, but they should consider attending in future years.

Not only does the event boast the high-energy thrills of any sports contest, but there is an enthusiastic, energetic subculture with all of the zeal, theatrics and pageantry of professional sports. 

The robotics team from Redwood Falls, known as the Wingnuts, competed in the FIRST Robotics team competition March 6-7 in Duluth.

The Wingnuts have been selected to compete in the finals the last couple of years in a row. The 2020 competition was special, because the Wingnuts made it into the finals as the number five ranked team.

Over a day and a half of competitions, each team competes every 90 minutes or so and receives a final rank based on win-loss percentages, and other specific goals that help the teams accrue points.

The highest ranked eight teams move on to the finals, where teams compete in a bracketed competition. Due to the fact that every team can expect that they might be grouped with other teams during the contest, there is a special sort of camaraderie and sportsmanship which exists in the arena that might not in many other competitions. 

It is common to hear of teams lending each other parts, tools or advice.

The pit area is a lot like a racing pit; it is open to the public and it is a sight to see. There, teams camp with their robots and tools between competitions, practice maneuvers or test repairs. They also build and strengthen alliances.

The 2020 competition was sponsored in part by Star Wars and the game pushed teams to build a robot that could accomplish a variety of tasks, both automated and under the direct control of drivers at different stages of the game.

Local students built a robot that could drive itself to deliver a payload of dodgeballs into a receptacle until a timer expired and the driver could take over, collecting more balls and delivering them to a scoring area. The highest scoring bonus was reached if a robot scaled a hinged scaffolding and climbed vertically to suspend a robot off the ground.

Each robot capable of the maneuver scored additional points, with even more possible if the scaffold was level at the end of the game – a difficult task accounting for multiple robots having a variety of weights and abilities. A full game’s team score might accrue between 40 and 70 points, but one move in particular could score up to ninety points. When all robots climbed off the floor to hang on a suspended, balanced bar.

Wingnuts were able to score the “endgame climb” in almost every heat which contributed to the high ranking. The enthusiasm at the arena was high. Teams would shout group chants and cheers in the stands. Many wore costumes besides team uniforms, many of them being Star Wars related in keeping with the theme.

The volume and excitement went through the roof whenever a team attempted a “triple hang.” Whenever all three robotic teammates attached to the central bar, nearly every person in the stadium stood to their feet and cheered.

The Wingnuts were a part of many of those that were accomplished and this helped them reach the finals as a team leader.

The FIRST Robotics competition is an event that anybody could enjoy, and any student should feel encouraged to take part in whatever way they can. There is more to the robotics competitions than just building and driving robots.

According to Todd Steve, who is one of the team’s coaches, the Wingnuts went 7-2 in their nine qualification matches to finish in fifth place out of 63 teams. They were able to select their alliance partners for the playoffs and chose team 2169 King Tec from Prior Lake High School and Team 2264 Trojan Robotics from Wayzata High School.

That alliance lost its first two playoff matches to be eliminated by an alliance captained by team 5991 from Westbrook-Walnut Grove High School.

Steve added the Wingnuts would like to thank its sponsors, Daktronics, Altimate Medical, the Redwood Area School District and the Redwood Area Education Foundation, Medtronic and the Bayer Fund. The Wingnuts would also like to thank the community for all of the support and well wishes sent its way during the competition.