Robotics Team Robotics · Tonkabots Earn Award at Duluth Competition

Tonkabots at Duluth competition

By Becca Neuger

The Mound Westonka Tonkabots FIRST Robotics Team demonstrated strong engineering, teamwork and problem-solving skills at the Northern Lights Competition in Duluth last month. The Tonkabots had 22 students in grades 9-12 participate in the team event, which was held March 7-10 at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. Although they did not qualify for the FIRST Championship this year, the Tonkabots came home with the 2018 Gracious Professionalism Award, given to the team that provided the most support and encouragement to other teams throughout the competition.

For nearly 30 years, the FIRST organization has been inspiring innovation and leadership by teaching STEM, teamwork and problem-solving skills through engaging, hands-on robotics challenges. FIRST Robotics Competition combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Teams of 10 or more students are challenged to design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills and build and program a 120-pound robot to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors.

Each FIRST Robotics Competition season culminates with district and regional events, where qualifying teams compete for awards and a spot at the FIRST Championship. Professional mentors volunteer their time and talents to guide each team. Every participant is eligible to apply for college scholarships.

The Tonkabots placed toward the bottom of the pool in this year’s regional competition, but their placement was not representative of their abilities, according to advisor Dale Kimball. “In the first preliminary round, another team lost control of their robot and smashed into our robot, causing a major amount of damage,” Kimball explained. “The team worked hard to get the robot back to a condition where we could compete against the other teams but wasn’t able to get there.”

Kimball said that the Gracious Professionalism Award is a testament to the fact that the MWHS students were always respectful and professional when interacting with other coaches and teams. The students also demonstrated to the judges that they could fairly divide tasks, communicate with each other and remain positive, even when things were going against them.

“For me as a coach, it is rewarding to see that other people recognize the type of students that Mound Westonka has in this program,” said Kimball. “Makes me proud to be their coach.”

Mound Westonka High School senior Jarek Witczek said that he thought the team was well-organized this year and was pleased with its improvement from the previous season. The Tonkabots named a lead student for each of five different task categories: art, marketing/finance, build, program and drive. However, even with admirable organization, the MWHS team faced various challenges along the way.

“The most challenging part was that the time we had to build wasn’t quite enough,” Witczek said. “Another challenge was that some of the parts that we wanted, we couldn’t really find anywhere.”

“There were a lot of factors that set us back a lot, but everybody worked hard the whole time,” said senior Zephaniah Johnson. “The most fun part for me was just watching the games at the competition.”

Ninth-grader Connor Walters agreed, saying, “without a doubt, the competitions are the most fun.” “At the competitions we go to, you have the opportunity to meet other teams and see their robots,” said Walters. “Being there is fun, but it is also gives you a chance to learn what we could’ve done better and what we will do next year.”

To learn more about FIRST Robotics, visit

View photos from the 2018 Northern Lights Competition

April 15 Omelette Breakfast and Silent Auction Fundraiser
MWHS Engineering and FIRST Robotics will be hosting an omelette breakfast and silent auction fundraiser on Sunday, April 15 at the Mound American Legion. The event runs from 9 a.m. to noon. Tickets are $10 and are available from any MWHS engineering student or at the door.