Like a fine-tuned machine

County cooperative RoboRiot team aims to continue success in regional competition
by Jeff Pederson
of The Review staff


MENTORS FROM SEVERAL Sheboygan County companies have played a key role in the success of the Sheboygan County RoboRiot 3418 high school robotics team over the past seven years. — Review photo by Jeff Pederson MENTORS FROM SEVERAL Sheboygan County companies have played a key role in the success of the Sheboygan County RoboRiot 3418 high school robotics team over the past seven years. — Review photo by Jeff Pederson Entering its eighth season of competition, the Sheboygan County RoboRiot 3418 high school robotics team has firmly established a spot among the elite robotics programs at the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Regional Robotics Contest in Milwaukee.

Two years ago, RoboRiot 3418 posted a second-place showing at regionals and the squad followed that up with another topeight showing at the 2016 regional event.

The combined high school robotics team, which is based at Sheboygan Falls High School, features a student roster that is once again overflowing with the key traits of success - experience, enthusiasm, leadership and commitment.

After forming in December 2009, the Sheboygan Falls-based RoboRiot team has experienced a swift rise to the upper echelons of FIRST Robotics, which is commonly referred to as “The Varsity Sport for the Mind.”


MEMBERS OF THE SHEBOYGAN COUNTY RoboRiot 3418 high school robotics team work on the team’s test robot at the Sheboygan Falls High School Innovation Design Center in preparation for a pair of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Regional robotics contests in Milwaukee and La Crosse this spring. — Review photo by Jeff Pederson MEMBERS OF THE SHEBOYGAN COUNTY RoboRiot 3418 high school robotics team work on the team’s test robot at the Sheboygan Falls High School Innovation Design Center in preparation for a pair of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Regional robotics contests in Milwaukee and La Crosse this spring. — Review photo by Jeff Pederson The 2017 squad features 22 students from Sheboygan Falls High School and an additional 11 students from Sheboygan North, Sheboygan South, Plymouth, Fond du Lac, Sheboygan County Christian and IDEAS high schools, as well as seven home-schooled students.

In addition, 21 adult mentors from the corporate and educational field of engineering, electrical and computer-based design are assisting this year’s team.


THE SHEBOYGAN COUNTY RoboRiot 3418 high school robotics team is set to compete in a pair of regional competitions this spring in an attempt to qualify for the FIRST Robotics World Championships in St. Louis April 26-29. - Submitted photo THE SHEBOYGAN COUNTY RoboRiot 3418 high school robotics team is set to compete in a pair of regional competitions this spring in an attempt to qualify for the FIRST Robotics World Championships in St. Louis April 26-29. - Submitted photo Since 2012, the squad has enjoyed a steady rise to the top of the Milwaukee FIRST Regional Robotics Contest rankings with appearances in the quarterfinals (2012, 2016), semifinals (2014) and finals (2015), including a fourth-place showing in 2014 and a runner-up finish in 2015.

Based on its recent history of success and returning veteran leadership, this year’s squad has its sights set firmly on the overall team title at the FIRST Regional Robotics Contests March 23-25 at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena and April 13-15 at the La Crosse Center, which would qualify the team for a coveted berth in the FIRST Robotics World Championships at Edward Jones Stadium in St. Louis April 26-29.


SHEBOYGAN COUNTY ROBORIOT 3418 team members run tests, during a recent design and building session at Sheboygan Falls High School. — Review photo photo by Jeff Pederson SHEBOYGAN COUNTY ROBORIOT 3418 team members run tests, during a recent design and building session at Sheboygan Falls High School. — Review photo photo by Jeff Pederson According to home-schooled senior and RoboRiot Fabrication Team Captain Joe Liederbach, this year’s squad is motivated to break through to new heights.

“We’ve been improving each year and have become a regular contender at the Milwaukee regional,” said Liederbach, who plans to study unmanned aerial systems at Liberty University in Virginia. “This year we have two complete robots that we are working with. We have a test robot, which allows us to try some things that we wouldn’t normally do with our regular competitive robot.

“It is double the work to have two, but we think it will help to give us a competitive edge,” he said. “We have a very good group of team members this year that is motivated and capable. We really want to go to St. Louis, so we are focused on getting into the winning three-team alliance at regionals.”

Liederbach’s fellow Fabrication Captain Preston Kvindlog, a senior at Sheboygan Falls High School, said this year’s 6-week build process went off without a hitch.

“Things went much smoother this year than previous years,” said Kvindlog, who plans to major in mechanical engineering at UW-Platteville. “We relied a lot on CAD for the design and build process, which really worked well for us.

“Getting to the Worlds at St. Louis is our goal and I think it is a reachable goal,” he said. “We’ve put a lot of work into it, and now we just have to make it happen in competition.

According to RoboRiot Lead Mentor Dan Schlagenhaft, this year’s regional competition featured a throwback theme.

“This year’s game is called FIRST Steam Works, which goes back to the concepts of the industrial revolution during late 1800s and early 1900s,” Schlagenhaft said. “It focuses on the idea of putting steam power to a useful purpose, which means the students are required to create a steam boiler to power a gear system in the robot, which makes the robot move into different spots on the playing field.

“The game features many different operations and ways to score points, including shooting balls,” he said. “Our students have chosen to create a strategy for all three operations of the game, which is a big challenge, but necessary if you want to score a lot of points. Newer teams probably would not try all three elements of the game, but we have a veteran team that is confident that they can do it.”

Schlagenhaft is confident in this year’s senior-led RoboRiot squad.

“We have a particularly good captain crew of 7 or 8 seniors this year,” Schlagenhaft said. “We also have a large group of 15 to 22 sophomores that have taken a strong interest in the team.

“It has been great to see the seniors take the younger kids under their wing to train and mentor them,” he said. “That is very important as far as succession planning for the years to come. That is what makes a program successful over a span of many years.”

According to Schlagenhaft, the team has learned some things from its efforts over the past five years during which it made the regional quarterfinals in four of five attempts.

“We again made it to the quarterfinals last year and we were picked by the top-seeded team for their three-team alliance,” Schlagenhaft said. “We ended up getting knocked out in the quarterfinals, but we learned that the competition always picks up in the final rounds.

“We ran into some aggressive defense that you don’t see in the qualifying round,” he said. “That caught us off guard and we just weren’t prepared for it. We had a good shooting robot, but we got pushed around by the opposition’s defense in the end. The kids have applied what they learned last year to improve that part of it this year.”

For the first time this year, the team will enter two regional competitions.

“We have gone to the Milwaukee regional for the past seven years, but this year the team decided to enter the La Crosse regional as well,” Schlagenhaft said. “That gives the team two opportunities to reach the World Championships. Having the extra test robot is what the students are hoping will help push them over the top.”

Aside from the competitive aspect of the FIRST Robotics Contest, the experience of designing and building a robot provides valuable handson experience, which has helped to pave the way to success for many former team members.

“We’ve had a number of former team members go on to success in college and in careers in the field,” said Ed Hughes, Sheboygan Falls High School tech ed teacher and design, CAD lead mentor. “Many have gone into engineering and a high percentage have pursued STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] related careers in any number of specialty areas, including computer science, mechanical, material science, biotechnology, physics, math and civil engineering among many others.”

According to Hughes, robotics has been incorporated into the regular curriculum at Sheboygan Falls High School.

“We have two robotics courses,” Hughes said. “Robotics 1 is currently offered for credit and we will also have a Robotics 2 class in which mentors evaluate the students based on leadership, hours and commitment.”

The team is also making full use of the new SFHS Innovation Design Center, which officially opened last fall.

“We have a really nice facility now to work in,” Schlagenhaft said. “The leaders at Sheboygan Falls High School have always been great to us and now having all this state-of-the-art equipment in a wonderful space has made it even better.

“It is such a luxury to have a plasma CNC, laser CNC, welding booth and 3-D printer available to us,” he said. “That has opened new doors for our kids and improved our efficiency greatly.”

A strong level of mentor involvement has been a hallmark of the RoboRiot program since its inception.

“The mentor involvement is a big key,” Schlagenhaft said. “The mentors serve as a guide to the students by teaching and sharing what they’ve learned through the years in their field. This helps connect the students’ learning with real world experience in various STEM fields.

“Mentors are the backbone of our program,” he said. “Having good, dedicated mentors separates the successful teams from the ones that struggle.

Mentor Steve Oplatek of Curt Joa is one of five former FIRST Robotics Contest participants on this year’s mentor team.

“I was on the robotics team at my high school in Forest Lake, Minnesota,” Oplatek said. “That was a huge learning experience that has helped push me to where I am today in my career as an engineer at Curt Joa.

“This is my first year as a mentor with this team and I have enjoyed it immensely,” he said. “I am happy to be able to provide guidance to the students for career planning in a number of areas like neumatic systems, automation and high-speed machinery and technical trades. The hands-on experience that students gain in this program is so valuable.”

Schlagenhaft says introducing students to STEM careers is as important now as it has ever been.

We’ve seen many students build professional relationships with mentors through the years,” Schlagenhaft said. “It would be nice to see all of our team members enter the workforce in a STEM field. These days there ought to be a job out there for every one of them.”

Preparations for this year’s regional contest began on Jan. 7 and concluded on Feb. 21.

“Six weeks is a short window to get everything done, but this group of kids has been ahead of schedule this year,” Schlagenhaft said. “They’ve put in many long hours. The preparation really goes far beyond the six-week build season.

“We really start planning in August and then it runs through the middle of May for us,” he said. “

For the fifth consecutive year, Sheboygan Falls High School has served as home base of the Robo- Riot team this year.

“Sheboygan Falls High School has been awesome to work with,” Schlagenhaft said. “They have gone above and beyond with their support of our program. They’ve given us full access to their school equipment and have helped us with whatever we’ve needed.

“The Culinary Department even feeds us once a week,” he said.

The team will hold a special open house event Thursday, March 16, along with the Sheboygan North and South High School Red Raider robotics team and Kiel High School Bond Brigade FRC 5586 team at the Kohler Co. Engines Lobby at 444 Highland Drive in Kohler.

Team sponsors include: Kohler Co., The Vollrath Co., Curt G. Joa Inc., Wis. DPI, Sargento Foods Inc., Rockline, Bemis Manufacturing Co., Sheboygan Early Bird Rotary Club, WillPemcoBielomatik, Advantage Prototype Systems, Panel TEK and Englewood Electric (EESCO).

The 2017 Sheboygan County RoboRiot 3418 team includes: Peter Aloisi (Sheboygan Falls High School, senior), Alex Arnoldi (Sheboygan County Christian, freshman), Olivia Blaha (Sheboygan Falls High School, freshman), Caleb Blaha (Sheboygan Falls High School, senior), Jessica Bloise (IDEAS of Sheboygan, junior), Jason Bonner (Sheboygan Falls High School, senior), Luke Burgard (Sheboygan Falls High School, junior), Avi Charlton Diesch (Plymouth High School, freshman), Mitchell Christiansen (Sheboygan Falls High School, senior), Colby Grams (Sheboygan Falls High School, freshman), Nicholas Grams (Sheboygan Falls High School, freshman), Ivan Hazen (Sheboygan Falls High School, sophomore), Christian Henke (Sheboygan North High School, senior), Daniel Huffman (homeschool, junior), Aidan Jennings (Sheboygan Falls High School, senior), Ethan Kapelka (Sheboygan Falls High School, junior), Skylar Kapellen (Plymouth High School, junior), Kyle Kraus (Plymouth High School, freshman), Olivia Krueger (Sheboygan Falls High School, senior), Ray Kulow (Sheboygan Falls High School, sophomore), Preston Kvindlog (Sheboygan Falls High School, senior), Allison Lee (Sheboygan Falls High School, sophomore), Joe Liederbach (home school senior), Logan Manthey (Plymouth High School, freshman), Randell Moyer (Sheboygan Falls High School, senior), Ian Oplatek (Sheboygan South, freshman), Alex Oty (Plymouth High School, freshman), Ethan Palenske (Sheboygan Falls High School, freshman), Jerrett Parrish (Sheboygan Falls High School, freshman), Taylor Peterson (Sheboygan Falls High School, senior), Aaron Rathke (Sheboygan Falls High School, senior), Isaiah Richards (Sheboygan Falls High School, senior), Lucas Rohrbeck (Plymouth High School, freshman), Joe Schlagenhaft (Fond du Lac High School, freshman), Jacob Strojny (Sheboygan Falls High School, sophomore), Noah Wagenknecht (Home school, junior), Jonathan Wagenknecht (Homeschool, senior), Nathan

Wagenknecht (Homeschool, senior), Zachary Worm (Homeschool, homeschool, senior) and Jonathan Worm (Homeschool, freshman).

Adult mentors include: Josh Adams (Curt Joa), Terry Arenz (Kohler), Collin Berke (LTC), William Bonner (WillPemco), Nathaniel Darling (Curt Joa), Peter Fox (Pantel Tek), Shawn Henry, Ed Hughes (Sheboygan Falls High School tech. ed. Teacher), Nicholas Jorgensen (Kohler), James Kvindlog (Kvindlog’s), Eric Liederbach (Sargento), John Lipinski (Kohler), Michael-John Longtin (Curt Joa), Steve Oplatek (Curt Joa), Jim Parrish (Kvindlog’s), Becky Schlagenhaft (St. Agnes Hospital), Dan Schlagenhaft (Kohler), Lori Schueller (Vollrath), Casey Stark, Eric Wagenknecht (Phillip’s Medical Services), Tom Winkel and Renee Wirsing (Kohler).


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