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Arrgh, matey: Elk Mound HS team wins Rube Goldberg contest on campus

MENOMONIE WI —  Elk Mound High School’s pirate-themed Rube Goldberg machine sailed away with the treasure at a regional competition Friday, March 2, hosted by University of Wisconsin-Stout.

The school’s machine took first place and earned two other awards to lead six teams in the technology and engineering challenge at the Memorial Student Center. Elk Mound took top honors last year with a machine named Santa’s Workshop.

Elk Mound also won the Hilarious Invention and Helping Hands awards. The school earned 85 points from a panel of judges, besting Maple River High School from Mapleton, Minn., 77 points, and Thorp High School, 68 points. Thorp also took the Creative Spark Award. Other schools competing were Plum City, Spooner and Turtle Lake.

With the victory, Elk Mound is eligible to compete in the national high school contest at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago on Saturday, April 21. In 2015 the team took third place nationally. With the Elk Mound School Board’s permission, the team plans to fundraise to attend the event.

A Rube Goldberg competition challenges students to create machines that turn the simplest of procedures into very complex processes. This year’s challenge is to pour a bowl of cereal. The event is named after an early 20th century engineer and cartoonist whose work spoofed modern machinery.

Machines must have a minimum of 20 steps and a maximum of 75 steps and be a standard size. They are judged on creativity and functionality.

Elk Mound’s machine had the maximum steps. Each of the two competition runs by the machine required one restart. Some of the processes and objects it uses include a billiards ball, ramps, marbles, three sails that unfurl, a tree that falls down, a model cannon that fires, as well as a coconut falling from a tree.

Caleb Young, a senior who has participated for three years, said the team picked the pirate theme to stray from the idea of having breakfast in a kitchen.

“It’s always fun to win, but I like to come and see everyone else’s machines,” Young said. “Everyone has these great ideas. It is cool to see the creativity.

“I like the idea of taking nothing and making it into something,” Young said. “We literally take scraps of wood and turn them into this,” he said, gesturing toward the machine complete with pirate ship with three sails and a treasure island theme. “We knew we wanted to have sails to catch everyone’s eyes.”

Elk Mound junior Abby Kasper is on the team for the first year and plans to return her senior year. “I grew up doing carpentry with my dad,” she said. “This was making stuff, which is second nature to me. I like the teamwork. It’s not just one person running the show. We all have to come together.”

Lucas Audorff, technology education teacher at Elk Mound and the team’s adviser, said the team worked about 800 hours — mostly after school or over lunch periods — to create the machine.

“This competition is good for them to see what other kids are doing,” said Audorff, a 1998 UW-Stout graduate. “It’s important to give kids opportunities. It is a school and community project. It takes work and dedication to do anything.”

In the week before the competition, the Elk Mound team practiced 35 times, showing the machine to about 800 elementary and middle school students.

Other Elk Mound team members include first-year students Blake Burlingame, Brennen Zais; sophomore Danielle Wagner; junior Dillon McLaughlin; and seniors Andrew Benson and Bryce Kasper.

The event was hosted by the UW-Stout Technology Education Engineering Collegiate Association. About 10 TEECA members volunteered to help with the contest.

“Rube Goldberg is just a good experience,” said Mike Meyer, coordinator of the contest, TEECA president and a junior technology education major. “You get to see so many aspects of physics and the technical side of engineering while building the machine.”