WILLMAR — The Willmar Middle School robotics team WARP 1 is on its way to a state contest in its second year of competition.

Until the February competition, though, their work will continue. “Some tweaks” is how Jared Anderson, one of the team’s mentors, described the work they are now doing.

After school last week, the wood shop at Willmar Senior High School was bustling. A group of team members were setting up the arena, a padded floor inside low plexiglass walls with bridges across the middle.

Several team members were replacing axles on their robot while in a nearby classroom others worked on coding for the robot. Two boys were using iPads to edit a video of their regional performance.

Later in the afternoon, the team put the robot through its paces, guiding it to pick up blocks that looked like giant LEGOs and stack them on a base.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

(MUST BE PUBLISHED)

The team is part of FIRST Tech Challenge, part of a continuum of programs that culminates in FIRST Robotics Competition. The Middle School team was named after the Willmar High School team WARP SPEED.

Lead mentor Shawn Nelson, high school industrial technology instructor, said he agreed to start the younger team at the urging of his teacher mentor Mike Kroeker, who oversees the WARP SPEED team.

Neither he nor Anderson, a high school math teacher, had worked on robots before, he said. Their job is to guide students as they work to solve problems for themselves, Anderson said, and they’ve all been learning together.

Isaiah Vazquez, 12, is in his second year with the team. The seventh-grader is working on marketing, “ways to get the word out there” about the team. He had developed some laser-cut wooden tokens and was thinking of other “little trinkets” like buttons or stickers.

He was working on a video of their first competition so they could study it for problems and potential fixes.

Several students said they had joined the team because they had older siblings on the high school team.

Bailey Nichols, 12, in her first year on the team as a sixth-grader, said she has enjoyed being on the team, “probably because it’s a lot of thinking.” Bailey works on the computer-aided design team. That day, she helped set up the perimeter of the arena.

Dustin Seubert, 13, said his older brothers told him to give the team a try, and he talked Derik Johnson, 12, into joining with him. Derik’s condition was that Dustin go out for a sport with him. Both are seventh-graders in their second year with the team.

They’ve both liked robotics but found that cross country wasn’t their thing. Baseball might come next.

Derik, the operator of the robot, and Dustin, the driver, were replacing axles last week. The original ones were bending.

Asked if they like the team better this year, Derik smiled and said, “Yeah, because our robot actually works.” Nelson said last year’s robot did work but ran into a number of problems in competition.

Competitions are a team effort. Team members prepare presentations for judges and answer questions. Some members scout other competitions to check out other teams, a serious part of every competition.

A driver and operator work together to run the robot. They are aided by a student coach who can keep an eye on the overall situation. Ryan Vruwink, 11, said he tells them when to stop and start, and “I tell them when stuff is coming.”

In competition, two teams work together to form an alliance to try to score more points than another alliance.

Higher-ranked teams choose the members of their alliances, which is how WARP 1 made it into the state competition.

Though their overall ranking wasn’t high, the Willmar team had some very good runs involving some of the top teams. They were chosen to be part of a winning alliance.

The team also received an award for best design and was nominated for another in 3D printing.