By Doug Schroder


Thirty-two high school teams assembled from all over the state of Illinois, in addition to teams traveling from Iowa and Wisconsin for the fourth annual Rock River Off-season Competition held at Rock Valley College in Rockford on Saturday, July 30. The event keeps growing as Co-Chair of the event Karen Hill stated that all 32 openings for the event were filled within two weeks of the May 1 registration opening.

“Last year we were scrambling to get teams by the July 1 deadline. This year the openings filled quickly and we had to put teams on a waiting list,” said Hill.

High school robotics has grown in popularity over the 22 years the program has been in existence in Illinois. The number of teams across the nation, as well as the world, has also grown immensely.

When a new team is formed the team is given a chronological number according to when they were formed. That’s why when you see the team names there is always a number before them.

The 81 Metalheads, from Freeport/Lena-Winslow, were the oldest team in the competition, while 6237 Martin Motion, of Neponset, Ill., was the newest.

In robotics competitions teams are given six weeks and two days to build a robot that meets the specifications require. Students put in many hours figuring out how to meet the requirements and get the robot assembled in time.

While it is a competition, there is a certain camaraderie among members of all teams.

“We work with other teams during the year, sharing our ideas and communicating with each other online. Seeing what will work and what won’t,” said 1625 Winnovation team member Bryan O’Hern.

While each team has their programmers and fabricators, they also have marketers. It costs a minimum of $30-40K to compete, with some teams having budgets as high as $100K. Sponsors are therefore needed and that’s where the marketing comes in. When a team gets a sponsor, the sponsor’s name is then displayed on the robot, the same way NASCAR teams display sponsors on cars.

Jessica Dishman, President of Women of Today Manufacturing, said that her organization has donated  $41,500 to various teams, with help from the Northern Illinois Community Foundation.

High school robotics teams are a great way to prepare students for the real world. It teaches them critical thinking, how to prepare for something, and then adjust on the fly as needed.

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