The pit crew makes modifications to the CyBears' robot at the Northern Lights Regional. Aren Jorgensen, Andy Hershberger, Ben Salazar (l to r), and Bryan Chantigian (back to camera). Photo by Chris Douglas
By Mitch Long, Andy Pethan
and Chris Douglas
The Byron Cybears and Kasson-Mantorville Otternauts, both FIRST Robotics teams, competed in the Northern Lights regional tournament in Duluth earlier this month. Both teams earned a place in the Saturday playoffs and played in the quarterfinal round. At the conclusion of the event, the Otternauts earned a spot at the World Championships in St Louis in April.
While on the way to the stage to receive their trophy they faced a gauntlet of cheers and high fives from their most ardent fans at the event: the Byron Cybears.
This kind of partnership sounds strange for competitors, but in FIRST Robotics it's all part of the game. The mission of FIRST Robotics is to inspire students to become technical leaders, even if that student doesn't happen to go to the same school. It's a credo known as "Gracious Professionalism."
The Otternauts are a first year team, and part of the culture of "Gracious Professionalism" is that veteran teams step forward and help rookies get off to a good season. The Cybears, now in their fifth season, are doing just that.
The partnership started in early January at the robotics kickoff event for this year's game, "FIRST Steamworks." The CyBears hosted a workshop and invited the Otternauts and the Wrench Warmers, a second year team from Blooming Prairie, to attend. Students separated into small groups and discussed strategies, game rules, and the basics of FIRST Robotics competition. During the six week build season, Byron students visited Kasson each week. The visits involved sharing knowledge, parts, and strategies, as well as stories from their experiences in prior seasons.
Both the Cybears and the Otternauts were eliminated in quarterfinals at the Duluth tournament. The Otternauts earned their spot at the World Championships when they received the "Rookie All Star" award, honoring the top rookie team at the tournament. And in a bit of turnabout, the CyBears team earned its first ever FIRST award, for "Gracious Professionalism," based in large part on a nomination essay authored by the Otternauts.
Last week, the CyBears received some unexpected news; they're going to the FIRST World Championships, too! FIRST Robotics reserves a small number of entry slots at the World Championships for teams that have been in FIRST for some time, but haven't qualified in past seasons. While the CyBears have been close, having been alliance captains in the Northern Lights Regional championship in both 2015 and 2017, and chosen as an alliance partner in 2016, they've fallen just short of their goal. FIRST holds a lottery for teams just like the CyBears, and this year they've been chosen.
The CyBears are now engaged in an effort to perform even better; making upgrades and modifications to their robot, changes to their game strategy, the drivers drilling and training, and the entire team is undertaking a massive fundraising campaign in order to cover the cost of the trip to St. Louis.
The team is looking forward to the FIRST World Championships April 26 - 29. To get the team to St. Louis will cost about $12,000, of which $7,500 has already been raised. Should Byron individuals or businesses wish to contribute to help make the trip possible, donations can be mailed or dropped off at the Byron High School or District Office, along with a note specifying it's for the CyBears.