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BHS robotics team showcases work

This year was the second time in the team’s 15-year history that students made it to state, placing 31st and learning valuable lessons along the way. Students on the Warriors robotics team spent the year building Bertha and programming her for competition.

Brian Bordwell talks on a microphone while Bertha the robot performs with students filling the gym stands at a pep fest.
Brainerd High School robotics coach Brian Bordwell talks about the team's robot, Bertha, during a pep fest Friday, May 20, 2022. The student robotics team built and programmed Bertha for competitions this year.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Bertha was one of the performers at the Brainerd High School pep fest Friday, May 20, but she wasn’t a student or teacher.

Throwing rubber balls and hoisting herself up on some metal bars, Bertha earned resounding applause from the audience. That’s because she’s a robot.

Students on the Warriors robotics team spent the year building Bertha and programming her for competition. Working six days a week for much of the school year, the kids earned the rank of 27th out of 189 teams in the state and a bid for the state tournament, which showcased the 36 best teams across Minnesota.

“Just to make it to the state tournament is huge,” robotics coach Brian Bordwell said Friday.

The Brainerd High School robotics team shows off the robot they built at a pep fest Friday, May 20, 2022, at the BHS gym.
Brainerd High School junior Zane Jacobi controls the robot he and his robotics teammates made this year. Students showcased their robot during a pep fest Friday, May 20, 2022.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

This year was the second time in the team’s 15-year history that students made it to state, placing 31st and learning valuable lessons along the way.

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The Warriors earned the Outstanding Engineering and Design Award from Dunwoody College, and Bordwell as named a Section Coach of the Year along with fellow Crosby-Ironton coach Mike Gindorff.

Communication, perseverance and problem-solving skills got the Warriors through the season of competitions, which included a fifth place finish at the Lake Superior Regional in Duluth and the trip to the University of Minnesota for state May 7.

The team’s robot must perform certain tasks at each competition to earn points. This year’s “game,” as the challenge was called, involved shooting balls into a sort of basket and then climbing to the top rung of a hangar. The first 25 seconds of each competition are autonomous, meaning the robot moves on its own without human control. Students then drive the gadget for the rest of the round.

“We kept having problems,” team member Zane Jacobi said. “... We would just keep having issues, but it was nice to see that we can turn it around and just show up to the next (round) as if nothing happened.”

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Jacobi worked as the team’s lead programmer this year, using Java to program the robot and learning a skill he plans to take with him into the programming industry in the future.

Sophomore team member Will Aadland knows he wants to go into engineering and said working with a team and building communication skills will undoubtedly help him in his career after high school.

Aadland enjoyed getting a chance to see other teams’ robots at the state competition, learn what they did and get ideas for the future, which Bordwell has high hopes for.

“They worked really hard together, so I’m super excited about our future and our group coming back next year,” Bordwell said.

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The Brainerd High School robotics team shows off the robot they built at a pep fest Friday, May 20, 2022, at the BHS gym.
The Brainerd High School robotics team shows off the robot they built at a pep fest Friday, May 20, 2022, at the BHS gym.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Now assisted by fellow coach Landon Brainerd, Bordwell came on board as coach when the robotics program started at BHS in 2008. The students were sponsored by the University of Minnesota for the first two years before becoming self-sufficient with annual fundraisers and a long list of local sponsors.

Twin Cities based 3M sponsors the Brainerd team, along with Clow Stamping, Deerwood Bank, LINDAR Corporation, MaxBotix Inc., Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1647, L&M Steel, Anderson Brothers Construction, Digital Inc., Minnesota T’s, Precision Tool Technologies and Graphic Packaging.

Mentors work with the students each year, too, some of whom are former BHS team members now working in fields related to robotics and passing on their expertise to younger students.

With only one senior on this year’s team, Bordwell looks forward to building on the past year’s experiences and continuing to grow the program.

“This is a college-level experience,” he said. “This is like a design problem that used to not be in high schools.”

And now that it’s here, robotics has proved to be an invaluable opportunity for the students, who have enjoyed seeing their creations come to life.

“Just being able to see our idea grow from a drawing on a whiteboard to the actual robot was really cool,” Jacobi said.

But perhaps the most memorable takeaway of all?

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“We also learned that you can fix anything with a combination of zip ties, electrical ties and Velcro,” Jacobi said.

“And hot glue,” another student chimed in.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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