Last month, St. Anthony and Teutopolis high schools sent robotics teams to St. Peters, Missouri, to compete in the second annual BotsSTL competition and both groups came back already thinking of next year.

Teutopolis competed as the “Lit Club” with its all-aluminum robot, Monika, while St. Anthony’s team name and robot were the same –“Lil Poke.”

The April 21 competition was held at Fort Zumwalt South High School, where 17 teams gathered, some including colleges as large as the University of Missouri. Each team’s robot had to weigh less than 15 pounds and was judged on five scoring criteria.

Teutopolis and St. Anthony both fell to the host and its robot, “Arleo,” and its rotating blades. Prior to that, Teutopolis won its opening match before losing its second by judgment.

“Our weapon wasn’t going as fast as we wanted it to so our plan was to use our armor as our weapon,” explained junior Joseph Siemer. “So as it was spinning, we just took the blows and it stopped it and we knocked off its blades.”

St. Anthony, meanwhile, cruised past its first two opponents, including last year’s grand champion, Pittsburgh State University’s “B2”.

“Our second round, we actually turned off the robot’s weapon with our poker,” said senior Keri McGuire. “Once we did that, it was like, ‘Hey this is actually kind of easy.’”

“Lil Poke” then fell to Arleo after St. Anthony’s weapon was disabled.

“They (Arleo) were terrifying at first,”

said senior Luke Koester, St. Anthony’s driver. “They had two bots and several different shields so, if their shield got tore up, they could put a new shield on it and be like a new bot coming in. They knocked out our weapon like within the first 10 seconds. So my only strategy was to ram them and not let their weapon spin.”

In the final standings, St. Anthony finished fifth while Teutopolis took ninth.

For Teutopolis, it marked the second year participating in the competition. English teacher Albert Church sponsors the team, as well as the Internet Society Club, and says Superintendent Bill Fritcher received a letter last year from the STL Bots League looking for schools to join.

That led Teutopolis to send two teams to compete in 2017. Altamont High School also sent a team.

“I just liked the entire process last year,” said Siemer. “Everything about it was fun. And then with having lost, I wanted to try again.”

“See what we could improve upon,” added sophomore Nicholas Tensen.

This year, while Altamont did not compete, the Bulldogs did after Cathy Wenthe, St. Anthony’s technology applications class teacher, was approached by Kevin Ruholl of Versatech after her class took a tour of the facility.

Ruholl and Jacob Doedtman, with Prairieland Design Solutions, then approached Kevin Vogel at Vogel Manufacturing and asked the co-owner if he would be interested in sponsoring the Bulldogs.

“I got involved in November,” said Vogel. “Kevin and Jake came over and said, ‘Hey can we count on you to sponsor this? They’ll need a lot of time and some money to get started with the project.’”

St. Anthony was also assisted by Bierman Welding, as well as Doedtman, who helped Teutopolis last year and this year again, along with Adermann’s Welding and Stevens Industries.

“We decided to take the stepping stone of ordering a base kit for the robot,” explained Vogel. “For about a $1,000 investment, you get a base kit which gives you essentially a heavy-duty remote control car to build the chassis on.”

Both teams used the same kit, but from there, the two schools veered in different directions. Teutopolis eventually settled on a sturdier outer shell compared to last year and an egg beater as its weapon.

“We chose the egg beater because a lot of robots last year had an egg beater and it seemed pretty effective,” explained Tensen.

“It's like a metal bar that spins around,” added Siemer. “It really does not look that much like an egg beater so I don’t know where the name came from but that’s what everyone calls it.”

By contrast, St. Anthony’s robot featured an interchangeable spear that could be replaced with a scoop.

“It was a long process,” said junior Blake Niebrugge. “We had a bunch of different ideas.”

“When Mrs. Wenthe first brought it to us, I thought it was a really cool idea,” said senior Joe Kabbes. “To actually see it built and succeed was really awesome to watch.”

But the foray into battling bots wasn’t just for fun. As Church, Wenthe and Vogel attested, the competition was another way to expose students to vocational skills, like computer-aided design, that are in high demand.

“It introduced them to different manufacturing processes,” said Vogel. “We’re trying to take all the theoretical stuff and tie it together and put something in their hands and show them this is how this is made.”

And for some students, including Teutopolis senior Michael Fuesting, the skills acquired through the competition will aid them in college. Fuesting was on one of Teutopolis’ two robotics teams last year and taught himself how to use computer-aided design. The senior now plans on earning a degree in engineering starting in the fall.

“He designed everything we needed in 3-D and then they sent it to the 3-D printers at Stevens,” explained Church. “They would print things off and get it to scale and manufacture what we needed.”

Immediately following the formal competition in St. Louis last month, teams had a chance to partake in grudge matches against any other team willing to do the same.

Having not had the chance to take on their nearby rivals, the Teutopolis Lit Club sought to battle St. Anthony.

"We were going to but they (St. Anthony) left before it was time for the grudge matches," said Siemer. "So I’m not saying they were running scared but they chose not to fight in the grudge matches.”

“We said, ‘Why tear up our bot?’” said Wenthe.

"That's something I would like to see," added Koester.

Contact Keith Stewart at keith.stewart@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151, ext. 132.