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The Catholic Memorial Robotics team, the CyberSaders, qualified for the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics Championship.

The CyberSaders were one of four teams to qualify from the Wisconsin Regional Championship. The team already shipped their robot to St. Louis, where the international final is taking place on Wednesday, April 27.

The competition requires teams to build and program robots to perform challenging tasks against a field of competitors. Under this year's game theme, the competitors had to design a robot that could score 'boulders' or foam balls into goals, either in a lower goal or an upper goal with various obstacles.

In their first year as a robotics team and first year competing, the CyberSaders won the Rookie All-star award, based on the engineering design of their robot, their performance during competition and presentations given by team members explaining the process and strategy for their design.

'It really adds to the value of the content and skills that we are teaching and the process we're teaching,' Principal Robert Hall said.

Mentors and helpers

CMH seniors Erik Spitz and Ryan Knuese, sub-team captains for the robotics team, said that they got a lot of help and support from other teams competing in the regional as well as from mentors like Curtis Beck, Derek Knuese and Shannon Burke.

'Our robot broke during competition,' Ryan said, 'And you hear over the loudspeaker, Team 5976 needs a bearing, and three other teams will come up and offer to help.'

The FIRST Robotics competition has student teams perform under strict rules and with limited resources, but the CMH team said they had even more limitations than most. It was their first year doing the program and, with nothing to build off, they began their journey to competition well behind most teams.

'We started with a screwdriver. ... We didn't have too many resources at our disposal,' said John Burke, the CyberSaders faculty mentor. 'Waukesha South High School let use their shop, and a few other teams helped us with questions and problems.'

The students also benefits from a team of volunteer mentors, teachers, parents, business professionals and teachers who work with the students as they build and program their robot for competition.

Burke, an English teacher, credited the team's many mentors for the team's success, but Hall said that Burke deserves a lot of the credit, too.

'There are schools and organizations that have been at this for years, that have the 'materials' to make some unbelievable robots,' Hall said. 'Our robot is 100 percent authentic to a group that had limited financial resources but unlimited human potential.'

Rookie all-stars

The 15-member robotics team began their journey last spring forming by sub teams and holding preliminary meetings. And during the school year, students met every weekday as well as most Saturdays to get their robot, dubbed Raskolnikov, ready for competition. There were lots of changes along the way.

'It was all learning as you go,' Burke said.

Neither he nor most of the team had experience with robots before, although Ryan and Eric were both familiar with programming and manufacturing, respectively.

'I took all the programming classes offered here,' Ryan said, 'This gave me an opportunity to test myself outside of class.'

FIRST Robotics revealed this year's challenge to the world in early January, based on the video game Stronghold, which has a medieval theme.

After the announcement the teams had six weeks to get their robot ready to compete. After the six weeks they have to wrap the robot in plastic and can't touch it until the date of the competition. For this team, that meant no real test drives.

'Our first time driving the robot was for competition, at Regionals,' Ryan said. 'I wish I could drive it more.'

By winning the Rookie All-Star award the team gave themselves another a chance to drive the robot in competition. But for now, Raskolnikov is tucked safely away and on its way to Missouri where it will meet with 600 other qualifying teams from 24 countries around the world.

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