The Rebel Alliance will seek victory Saturday, May 21, at Mariucci Arena. There will be no light sabers or Jedi, but a student will be wearing a Wookie costume.

Owatonna High School competes at the state robotics tournament at the University of Minnesota. OHS is the only team to qualify for a fourth straight year, which junior mechanical lead Sam Bendorf proudly stated during a conversation with KRFO radio Thursday as the team was doing some fine tuning for the event. Thirty teams will form alliances while trying to navigate defenses and shoot balls into a tower.

Junior Morgan Rappe describes it as a "capture the tower type of game. Defense is scattered all around the field and your job with your robot is to take boulders, which are smaller Gopher balls, pick those up, drive across those defenses, shoot them into the opposing teams tower and capture it."

Rappe and Bendorf are the captains for Owatonna's mechanical lead, one of several jobs that are divided up between the 45 students on the team. Tasks include building, programming, electrical and business. Rappe says they are thinking of adding a strategy team for next year. She is one of 12 girls on the team. Both students are happy to see the increase in interest among girls. The team originally began with 20 boys and one girl, Bendorf said.

Both students told KRFO they became interested in robotics after seeing demonstrations in their industrial tech classes. Rappe has plans to get into engineering after high school, but she points out there are many different aspects of the team that can fill any student's area of interest. The team is known as the Rebel Alliance, a decision made several years ago when the team was formed. They don't use Harley the Husky, but rather have a student wear a Wookie costume during competitions.

The team had great success at the Duluth regional early this year. Bendorf said, "This year I felt we did very well. Actually for a while up in our Duluth regional we were placing second. So that's incredible out of 60 teams. That's the biggest regional in the entire world actually." He added, "We're the only high school team that's gone to state four times in a row, only one. And we still don't get a pep rally."

Morgan said that "Minnesota is one of three states in FIRST that recognize robotics as a varsity sport. We were the first state to do it. A lot of other state are starting to follow our lead." Students at OHS can letter in robotics. Saturday's state tournament is hosted by the Minnesota State High School League and is free to attend. Opening ceremonies are at 8:30AM at Mariucci Arena. Final awards begin about 4:30PM. Faribault and Rochester also have teams at state.

Bendorf says, "We like to call it a sport for the mind." He invites spectators to Saturday's state event. "Well. It's the 21st century. If you want to see what's going to happen in the future, come visit us. Everything you see will eventually probably make it to your house. You'll have robots shooting balls over your kitchen table. Who knows."

Rappe says the robot will be used for several exhibitions and recruiting in the fall then will be scrapped for parts for next year's season. The game changes each year and students start from scratch in building a robot.

The team would like to thank local businesses that support them including Bosch, Wenger and Retrofit among others. The staff adviser is Valerie Rose.


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