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Cass Lake-Bena fields two robotics teams

CASS LAKE - At the end of the robotics season last spring, Mariah Reyes asked one of her coaches, "Why don't we have an all-girls team?"

Now they do. Cass Lake-Bena High School made its mark last weekend when it took not just one, but two teams to the FIRST Robotics North Star Regional competition at the University of Minnesota. The Regulators was an all-boys team and the Accelerators an all-girls team.

According to assistant coach Matthew Wendland, it was the first high school in the state to have two separate teams competing in the FIRST Robotics Challenge.

The reason for changing from one gender-neutral team to separate gender-specific teams was done in an effort to get more girls involved in the engineering challenge and competition, he explained in an email.

Mariah Reyes was the lone girl on the team last year when she asked about starting an all-girls team, believing that more girls would get involved. Conversations were held between the coaches and mentors, students were polled, rules were examined, sponsors were sought out and board approval was given.

The experiment worked overwhelmingly, Wendland reported. The Accelerators' inaugural season was a success, consisting of more than 16 female students.

This led to a cooperative competition between both teams.

"The use of FIRST's trademark philosophy of 'gracious professionalism' was on display throughout the season and especially during the competition," Wendland said in the email. "Both teams earned their own bragging rights over one another. The boys did it by winning the head-to-head matchup between the teams during the regional tournament. The girls did it by finishing ahead of the boys in the final standings."

Wendland said the hope is to continue both teams moving forward next year, but he said financing is always a concern. Medtronics sponsored the teams this year.

This year, more than 2,800 teams competed in robotics competitions across the country, he said. Minnesota currently has the third most Robotics teams of any state with 187 teams.

Robotics in Minnesota has become so popular that its teams now outnumber the number of varsity hockey teams in the state, he noted.


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