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FIRST Robotics Great Northern Regional To Play Sweet Tunes

Submitted by: Ryan Bergeron

The Tribune (Greenbush, Minn.)

Plenty of different tunes will be playing in Grand Forks, robotics tunes that is, when nearly 60 high school FIRST Robotics team from near and far arrive at the Alerus Center for the sixth annual Great Northern Regional, March 6-9. The Great Northern Regional Planning committee is hosting this event, led by the following teams: #876, Thunder Robotics, out of Northwood, N.D., #2883, F.R.E.D., out of Warroad, Minn., #5172, Gator Robotics, out of Greenbush-Middle River (Minn.), and #4607, CIS, out of Becker, Minn.

“(I’m looking forward to) just the opportunity for our kids to see what goes into creating an event like this. I think we prepare kids for a lot of aspects of life, but preparing them to put on a big show like this is something that they may not get a chance to do again, said Mary Anderson, Team #5172 Coach and Great Northern Regional Planning Committee member. “… Kids get a little bit broader understanding of what goes in and might come away with a thought of, ‘This is an area where I can see myself.’” 

The event is expected to include 56 or 57 teams of students and engineering and technical mentors from North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Manitoba, Canada, and potentially Colorado.

At this Week Two FIRST Robotics regional event, these high school robotics teams will showcase the hard work they put in to designing and building an original robot to take on this year’s music-themed game, CRESCENDO, presented by Haas. Teams began this process after hearing about the game on January 6. To learn more about this year’s game, visit

Teams load in their robots and set up their pit areas on March 6. They will then participate in practice matches from 12:00-6:00 p.m. on March 7. On March 8 and 9, team pits open at 8:00 a.m., the opening ceremonies run from 8:30-8:50 a.m. and regional qualification matches begin at 8:55 a.m. each day.

Following the qualification matches on March 9, the top eight teams choose what teams to form alliances with to compete in the playoff matches as part of alliance selection at 12:15 p.m. Then, at 1:30 p.m., the eight alliances of three teams each battle it out in the playoff matches for a Great Northern Regional Championship title and an automatic trip to the FIRST Robotics World Championship, to be held in Houston, April 17-20. Awards ceremonies take place at the end of each day’s matches.

Speaking of awards, teams can also earn trips to the World Championship by earning certain recognitions, including the FIRST Impact Award, Engineering Inspiration, and Event Winner/Alliance Captain. A total of 14 team awards, plus possibly the FIRST Robotics Competition Dean’s List, are presented at this event, judged by professionals in various areas. This year’s judges include individuals from Digi-Key, John Deere, Marvin Windows and Doors, Titan Machinery, and the University of North Dakota. 

    Anderson will present the Volunteer of the Year Award and possibly the Dean’s List award, an award nominated on by mentors that recognizes the leadership and dedication of a selected tenth or eleventh grade student, according to She will also present the Woodie Flowers Award, an award nominated on by students that recognizes an outstanding mentor. 

   Outside the competition, this event will also include team workshops. These workshops include: Mental Health Resources with, Team # 2883, F.R.E.D., out of Warroad, Engineering Prosthetics with a former F.R.E.D. team member, Fire Extinguisher Training with American Crystal, XRP Workshop with Digi-Key, and Women in STEM with Team # 2177, The Robettes, out of Visitation School in Mendota Heights, Minn.—the state’s first all-girls high school FIRST Robotics team, according to the team’s webpage. The event will also include FIRST LEGO Explore and FIRST LEGO Challenge.

On March 8, Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski, UND Provost Eric Link, and Randy Richards (Policy Advisor for North Dakota U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer) will speak at the event. On March 9, North Dakota State Representative Jared Hagert, Mark Schmitke from Digi-Key, and Brian Mayfield (Director of Operations at Marvin Windows and Doors) will speak at the event too. Minnesota State Senator Mark Johnson is also potentially expected to speak at the regional.

The activities at this year’s regional would not be possible without the volunteers and sponsors. This year’s regional will include 150 volunteer workers. This year’s regional sponsors include: Marvin Windows and Doors, UND, Digi-Key, City of Grand Forks, John Deere, Greater Grand Forks Visitors Bureau, True North John Deere, Air Force, Minnkota, Altru, and American Crystal.

Over the life of this regional, the regional planning committee’s relationship has continued to grow with the City of Grand Forks and the University of North Dakota. At the start, Phil Gisi, a part of UND and its alumni group and a businessman in Grand Forks, initially helped out the regional financially.

Over the course of the next year, Gisi worked with the City of Grand Forks and UND to garner their support for this regional. Anderson highlighted how Grand Forks Mayor Bochenski is “all in” with supporting this event. UND’s support has continued to grow beyond just financially. On March 7, the university is hosting a social for all teams—adults and students—on campus, a free event that will include pizza, beverages, corn hole, large blow-up games, and the chance to tour.

“It's the only regional in the United States that offers that,” Anderson said, “so UND is a huge supporter of FIRST Robotics.”

The event is also benefitting the City of Grand Forks, bringing people and money into it. According to Anderson, last year’s event brought in $2.15 million to the City of Grand Forks.

Anderson encouraged people to take in this event for numerous reasons. First, it’s a chance for area people to catch and support local robotics teams, such as Warroad, Roseau, Greenbush-Middle River, Stephen-Argyle Central, Thief River Falls.

“We follow kids in all activities, in all sports, but (also) at theater and things,” Anderson said. “Let's follow them in robotics as well.”

The second reason, she highlighted, is the event is free. Third, it gives people the chance to see how students interact with other students from other areas, the relationships these students build, and the support the teams give each other.

“It's a little bit like going to a NASCAR race, and the pits are kind of set up a little closer,” Anderson said. “But it truly is that atmosphere with high energy and kids that some may say, ‘They're kind of nerdy,’ but some may say, ‘Oh my gosh, look at it. It encompasses all kids.’”

This regional is providing area and non-area students that chance to show their talents in and outside the robotics arena, and giving people the chance to see the latest tunes by FIRST Robotics—the chance to see what this program is all about. It’s also providing sponsors a chance to catch some of those tunes— whether it be current Grand Forks shoppers, or future UND students or area business employees— now and potentially into the future.


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