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Robotics on the rise in schools

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For the first time, there are more varsity robotics teams than there are boys’ varsity hockey teams in Minnesota. (Photo by Argenis Apolinario, FIRST)

An explosion in the popularity of high school robotics teams suddenly has made it chic to be geek: Robotics team members are getting varsity letters and patches, being paraded before school assemblies like other sports stars, and seeing trophies in the same lobby display cases as their football, basketball, or baseball counterparts.

“It’s the new kid on the block,” said Dawn Nichols, head of school at Convent of the Visitation Catholic School in Mendota Heights, Minn., which has the only all-girls high school robotics team in Minnesota.

A telling statistic: For the first time, there are more varsity robotics teams than there are boys’ varsity hockey teams in the state. There are 156 high school boys’ hockey teams and 180 robotics teams, up from 153 last year, according to the Minnesota State High School League.

At Duluth East High School, robotics coach Tim Velner and his Daredevils team thrive on the success they’ve had the past four seasons. But East’s 29 team members also are drawn to the variety of tasks involved in robotics, Velner said.

“You can’t play down the competitive aspect,” Velner said. “But kids like it because of the diversity. There are a lot of skill sets involved.”

The Daredevils are broken into teams. A writer could find a niche on the media and marketing team, Velner said, while a number-cruncher finds a place on the business or accounting team.

“We don’t just build robots,” he said. “We have the task of promoting science and technology as well.”

(Next page: The growth of robotics as a “sport”)

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