Last Saturday, Oct. 5, the Belle Plaine and Jordan robotics teams, teams who typically compete against one another, joined forces to raise some serious cash for their programs. And unlike some fundraising efforts, the benefactors gained just as much as the beneficiaries.
That’s because instead of simply asking for donations the robotics teams rolled up their sleeves, got their hands dirty and worked in the pumpkin fields of Jim’s Apple Farm. Instead of pocketing the $10 an hour for their work, the robotics teams put their wages back into their programs.
Organizers at Jim’s Apple Farm first got the idea from a visit to the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, according to Jerry Kornder, a staple employee at the business.
Kornder said he and the Jim’s Apple Farm Team, who spend much of their time working in Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store, were trying to find a way to harvest their pumpkins while also keeping workers in the store.
“There was a volleyball team that was doing the trash [at the Renaissance Festival],” Kornder said. “So we thought that might be a way to bring in our pumpkins.”
Kornder stated that this season the pumpkin patch has already brought in or will bring in the Belle Plaine cross country team, the Scott West wrestling team, the Jordan cheerleading squad, and Belle Plaine tennis. He added that bringing in teams makes for a cohesive work experience.
“We’re kind of using the infrastructure of these teams. There are some questions [the high school participants] are going to ask their coach, who is sort of like a manager, and the coach will ask us,” Kornder said. “So far it’s been working really well; it’s going great.”
Joseph Huebl, a coach of the Jordan robotics team who attended last Saturday’s session in the field, stated that the arrangement, known as “Pumpkin Patch Cash,” was a step in the right direction in terms of the teams’ visibility.
“It’s a mutually beneficial system. It’s also good for team building and building good relationships,” Huebl said.
Both the Jordan and Belle Plaine robotics programs got off the ground in January of 2013, and since then, the teams have been friendly competitors with one another, according to both Huebl and Jeff Heine, the advisor for the Belle Plaine team.
Where some high school robotics programs like that of Warroad, Minnesota, have lucrative corporate sponsors to back them, Belle Plaine’s team continues to search for a title sponsor to back them on a permanent basis. In the meantime, the program’s participants are finding whatever means necessary to fund their activity.
At the moment the magic number for Belle Plaine’s team is $7,000, a figure that will allow them to enter into not one but two regional competitions. Heine noted that competing in two competitions versus one is an almost inherent facet of top tier place finishes.
Last year, the Belle Plaine team took ninth out of about 60 teams from around the world at the regional contest in the Twin Cities, but Heine thinks a second showing would be crucial for the team’s success this year.
“The teams that do really well are the teams that go to a second competition. They know the ins and outs of the competition arena. They know the shortcuts,” Heine said.
Huebl added that “it’s an expensive sport.” But the fundraising and marketing challenges robotics programs around the world are facing means that more than just math and engineering-oriented students can thrive among robotics teams.
“There’s the electronics, there’s the mechanics, but there are also the marketing and fundraising aspects,” Huebl said of robotics programs. “There are pretty much all aspects of real-world experience, if you’re willing to realize there’s more than just the building of the robots.”
One of those tertiary skills the robotics teams displayed last Saturday was good, old-fashioned hard work, according to Heine.
“I thought it was really good for the kids to see that if you want money, sometimes you have to sweat a bit,” Heine said.
Last Saturday, the Belle Plaine and Jordan robotics teams earned estimated totals of $750 and $405 respectively.
Last summer, the teams collaborated on live demonstrations at the Scott County Fair and regularly exchange parts and troubleshooting advice.