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JCC robotics team qualifies for national competition

Members of the JCC FIRST robotics team earned first place at the 2011 Minnesota 10,000 Lakes Regional competition on April 2. The team has earned a place at the national competition from April 27-30 in St. Louis, Mo.

JACKSON -- For the first time, Jackson County Central High School had a robotics team this year.

The five-member team -- comprised of Alan Porter, a senior at JCC, and freshman students Josh Christoffer, Bradley Gustafson, Andrew Holmberg and Cole Lundeen -- entered this new endeavor with fairly low expectations, setting out to build a simple robot that would hopefully not break down during competition.

Suffice it to say, the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics team was astounded when it was named the regional winner of the 2011 Minnesota 10,000 Lake Regional competition on April 2.

"I didn't know it would be this exciting," Lundeen said of the team's success. "I thought we were just going to build a robot, and I didn't even know there was a competition involved."

After competing in a series of qualifying rounds, the rookie team was became part of an alliance of three-team alliance that ultimately became regional champions.

Being named the top team amid competitors from North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan is an honor, but being part of the 300-team national event is something no one on the team anticipated.

The team's mission, "start with the end in mind," has helped it get through many bouts of trial and error.

Mentors such as Valerie Jarvis, Nate Lawrence-Richardson, Alan Gustafson, Jonathan Van Beek, Doug Granger and Coach Bob Ruby have aided the team constructing its robot.

Counting the number of hours invested into building the robot is difficult for the team members, as they have diligently worked on their robot every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday since Jan. 8. Each team is allowed 42 days to work on its robots before competing in the regional competition.

As a result of those efforts, the team will compete in the national competition from April 27-30 in St. Louis.

"I just hope our robot doesn't break down," Porter joked. "We haven't had any problems during the competition and I hope it stays that way at nationals."

The path to the national competition has been challenging, but it has provided the team with many opportunities to expand its creativity and analytical thinking. Its members have also seen an outpouring of support from their school, community members and local businesses.

Constructing a robot and entering competitions can become expensive. The team was able to start the project through a $6,500 grant from NASA, which covered the registration fee. Sponsorships from AGCO and Schwalbach ACE Hardware in Jackson, as well as financial gifts from parents and others, aided the team during the building season.

After qualifying for nationals, the team realized it would need to come up with another $5,000 just to register for the event. Thanks to the support of AGCO and Hitch Doc, the JCC team will be able to make school history as it competes in St. Louis later this month.

The challenge will be much greater at nationals, as FIRST will face not only the top teams in the nation, but 30 international teams as well. The JCC students are hoping for continued success, and Gufstason noted the opportunity to be awarded scholarships through robotics competition.

"I feel that the team members have gained much more than they even realize," coach Ruby added. "They have seen the community, their parents and even their fellow students come behind them and support them in many ways."