Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 4/1/12
MINNEAPOLIS The Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers have nothing on the Robo Runners or Lightning Turtles. Wait, the who? Those were just two of the more than 60 teams competing at Rebound Rumble, a FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics competition in which teams build robots designed to shoot foam basketballs at hoops. High school teams from Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Tennessee participated in this weekend's regional event held on the University of Minnesota campus. Mariucci Arena and Williams Arena, which typically host Golden Gophers hockey and basketball, instead housed sweet-shooting machines (think more Mars Rover than, say, I, Robot). While basketball games are typically played between two teams, the Rebound Rumble pits two alliances against each other. Each alliance is made up of three robots from three different teams. Those robots attempt to score on four baskets of differing heights during a 2-minute, 15-second period. Each basket counts for varying point totals, depending on the height of the basket. Not all of the Robot Rumble participants play basketball, but they know how to build robots that do. "I guarantee you, if you said play a real basketball game (with robots), the kids here could do it," said Wesley Sandholm, a senior at Tartan High School in Oakdale, Minn. "They could build something that would do it." Teams have six weeks to build their robots, and they're designed entirely by high school students. Just like in the NBA, there's a lengthy rulebook -- about 50 to 60 pages -- that says what teams can and can't do while working on their robots. "The rulebook is pretty sizable," Sandholm said. Each team has mentors -- many of whom work in the engineering field for companies such as 3M, Pentair and NASA -- but the mentors are hands-off when it comes to building the robots. They're mainly there for support. "They do it on their own time," said Rachel Hoke, also a Tartan High School senior. "They're not getting (paid). They're volunteering, and they're amazing." Bruce Newendorp is an engineering mentor for the Swartdogs, a team from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His team was the most veteran group at this weekend's regional event, having been together since 1999. Some of the Swartdogs' previous members came back to help out at the event this weekend. From the time the objective of the Rebound Rumble was announced on Jan. 7, the Swartdogs spent countless hours working on their robot. "Our team meets essentially every day for that six weeks, every evening, every weekend," Newendorp said. "We take two days off, and that's the nights before finals. Otherwise we have a meeting every day. It's very intense to get this built in six weeks." For the first 15 seconds of each match, the robots must operate independently of the drivers. After that, members of each team control their robots, working with the other two teams in their alliance to score as many baskets as possible. Some robots are designed specifically to score on only one height of hoop, while others shoot from longer range, capable of scoring on any hoop. During Saturday's finals, the lights were dimmed at Williams Arena except for those shining on the center court. Fans filled the lower-level seats, cheering as each team was announced before the games. Team flags were waved before the match as mascots ran up and down the sidelines to pump up the crowd. The competitors on the court may have been made of metal, but the Rumble was just as intense as any other big-time basketball game -- minus the trash talking. "It is amazing how much teams help each other out and work together," Hoke said. "I think that's one of the big things that I really like about this competition -- you're not alone in a competition. It's not, 'Oh, what can we do to knock out (the other team)?' You're working together and having this great experience." Added Newendorp: "It's a competition, but you want everybody to win." Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.
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