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Ice Storm prepares for Robotics competition

Feb 21, 2020 07:38AM ● By Editor
Haddon Taylor watches Brody Lacina as Lacina works on the school’s robot that will be entered in the FIRST robotics tournament that will take place in early March in Duluth. The kids learn machining, wiring, mechanical skills as well as programming. The CCHS team is called Ice Storm, and they are one of more than 100 schools that will compete in the Northern Lights Regional robotics tournament that will be held at the Duluth Entrainment and Convention Center March 4-7.  Photo: Brian Larsen

By Brian Larsen from the Cook County News Herald - February 21, 2020

The Cook County High School Robotics team has been spending copious amounts of hours after school building and programming a robot they hope will help them place high in the upcoming 120 team FIRST robotics tournament that will be held in early March at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC).

Ice Storm, as the kids have named their team, began preparing last October. Whether or not they acquire a top place in the competition, however, will do nothing to detract from all they are learning.

Students who participate in robotics gain practical skills like welding, cutting metal, wiring, machining parts, mechanical engineering, and coding. They also learn to work together as a team, gain self-confidence, leadership, and develop communication skills.

John Vanderheiden, a junior, has been involved with Ice Storm since he was in seventh grade. He is the senior member of a dedicated group made up of nine boys and five girls.

On this day, Vanderheiden was looking up the cost of motor controllers, the new robot needed nine and at $63 a pop, that was going to pose a problem. The team had already spent a ton of money to arrange for a three day stay in a Duluth hotel, and paid their entry fee into the competition.


With few dollars in their coffers, the cost of purchasing nine motor controllers was troubling John. “That’s going to cost $567,” said Vanderheiden to Coach Tom Nelson. “We can strip the motor controllers off of the old ‘bot, but we have used those for the last four, five years. If we use them again in competition and they fail…” his voice trailed off.

“Order the new controllers,” said Nelson. “This is why we raise money. The donors we have now don’t want to see us go and not be able to compete because our parts fail.”

Nelson was referring to Medtronic’s, who once again paid the team’s $5,000 entry fee into the competition. Arrowhead Electric Cooperative also generously donated $5,000, which pays for the team’s lodging. Grand Marais State Bank has also donated $1,000, and several members of this year’s squad are trying to raise more funds for 2020.

Besides John Vanderheiden, the 2020 Ice Storm team members are Patrick Pierre, John Pierre, Cayden Zimmer, Kole Anderson, Sadie Wilson, Haddon Taylor, Olivia Nesgoda, Rae Ann Silence, Hailey Smith, Jack Wolf, Emma Wolf, and Brody Lacinia.

Last year Ice Storm received mentorship from Duluth East. This is common in the sport of robotics. Bigger teams often lend assistance to smaller teams.

But Nelson said the Duluth East squad was going to Sweden this winter and didn’t have as much time to assist CCHS as they have in the past.

“Once a week or so, their coach calls and offers advice. It is helpful, but they are busy planning their trip, so we didn’t receive as much aid from them as we did last year,” said Nelson.

In 2019, Ice Storm traveled to Grand Rapids, Minnesota, to take part in a scrimmage held before the regional event and Nelson said the team was going to Grand Rapids again for a February 16 practice.

“It was a great experience for the kids,” said Nelson. “It was beneficial to get their robot inspected. The inspection wasn’t as detailed as the one they will get in Duluth, but it showed us some things to correct before we got to Duluth. It also gave the kids a chance to meet and exchange ideas with other kids.”

Besides Nelson, Greg Pierson is once again mentoring the kids who build the robot, and Mike Duvall is once again helping the kids learn to program the robot. Lori Backlund, I.S.D. 166 school district financial officer, is assisting the kids in raising money for the program. 


FIRST stands For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. Dean Kamen, the founder, describes his vision for the organization, “To transform our culture by creating the world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming scientists and technology leaders.”

Each team competing in a regional tournament receives a kit of parts made up of motors, batteries, control system components, construction materials, and a mix of additional automation components— with limited instructions. Working with adult mentors, teams have right up to the day of the March tournament to design, build, program, and test their robots to meet the season’s engineering challenge.

Teams also receive the measurements of the game field and the challenges the robots will have to overcome. Robotic competitions are held worldwide. More than 83,400 high school students on 3,336 teams from around the globe are competing in the “Infinite Recharge” Star Wars themed competitions this year. 


The way the competition works, in the beginning, teams are randomly paired in threes– called alliances– to compete against each other. Their robots lift balls or push balls into scoring zones while another team tries to block and score at the same time. The more points each robot makes, the better chance your team has of winning the three-minute match.

After each team plays in seven (or more) matches, the top six teams get to pick two teams to round out their squad and go on to compete for the right to go to nationals.

The Northern Light Regional competition will be held at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC) from March 4-7. Teams come from throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota. Last year, one squad came from Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

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