By Ren Clayton

MAPLE GROVE, Minn. (WCCO) — A unique path has led a high school robotics team to the world championships.

A few extra cars outside a Maple Grove home is the only clue that something unique is going on inside.

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In the basement, the Iron Gears Robotics team is hard at work. As they have been throughout high school. A commitment from supportive parents.

“It’s worth it,” said Cheryl Graham, a coach and parent of of a team member. “Because seeing the passion the kids have for the program. And it’s really difficult to find space.”

Unlike most prep robotics programs, this team isn’t tied to a high school, making facilities and funding a challenge.

“We’ve all been friends for many, many years. That’s what makes our team really unique. We’re not affiliated with any school program.”

The group, which represents multiple high schools, including Blaine, Rogers, and Irondale, has had vast success. They have won the First Tech Challenge State Championship three years running. That would have made them eligible for the world championships, if not for COVID-19.

“Now this year is our senior year, and we’re able to attend the world championship for the first time ever, so we’re ecstatic about it,” said Ryan Graham.

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Fundraising is being done online. In the last month, they’ve reached out to 100 businesses for sponsorships.

“It’s a pretty good thing to learn, how to present and stuff,” Weston Herrick said.

Teams from Duluth and Chaska will join the Iron Gears as part of the 160 team field in Houston, Texas.

“There’s a lot of pressure because we obviously wanna do our best,” Cooper Arvig said. “We wanna try to get the inspire award. But also, you never know what’s going to happen.”

From an unfinished basement to finishing the job at worlds.

The team also does extensive volunteer work, including raising money for younger robotics teams.

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The world championships start on April 20 in Houston, Texas.

Ren Clayton