It was a gamble that the 12-member New Auburn High School team didn’t have to take. Two other high schools in the same situation decided to play it safe and sit things out.
But with a national title possibly on the line, co-captains Everett Sarauer and Dan Pitts decided go ahead with making a third run of the team’s entry in the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest.
Taking the risk and winning outweighed possibly losing, Pitts said.
Forty-two steps later, New Auburn completed its third flawless run with its “Toys on Task” machine.
“I think that impressed the judges,” Sarauer said.
It sure did. So much so that New Auburn won the national title for a third time Saturday at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich.
The school also won back-to-back national titles in 2005 and 2006.
The Goldberg competition has students showcasing their engineering skills by completing a simple task in a complicated way. The competition is named after the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, whose funny designs were overly complex.
The machines the students design must contain a minimum of 20 steps.
New Auburn qualified for the national competition after winning regionals at the University of Wisconsin-Stout on March 1.
The students raised $5,000 in donations in about two weeks to pay for the trip to Michigan. Much of the costs for transportation were picked up by a Chippewa County company that prefers to remain anonymous.
In winning the national title, the 12-student New Auburn team defeated 13 other teams from 10 states, including California, Illinois, Georgia, Indiana, Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Texas and Wisconsin.
Another Wisconsin high school, Kimberly, finished second and Rockford, Mich., was third.
The national finals were tense, said Jim Skuban, New Auburn’s technology and engineering teacher.
“You could hear a pin drop in there,” he said.
Skuban advised the national champs along with two student teachers from UW-Stout, Andy Lorenzen and Kevin Deitsche, both graduates of Colfax High School.
There was a buzz in the air, Deitsche said. Two giant LCD screens captured the action. If there was a mistake that needed student intervention, the crowd would murmur “ooh and ahh,” he said.
He praised the students for being very smart and coachable.
Sarauer said the students began making prototypes of competition machines in their senior technology classes.
They wanted a “Toy Story” theme but figured Disney held the copyright to that name, so they changed it to “Toys on Task.”
“We got stuck a few times,” he said during the machine’s development. But things went quickly once the students found the general direction they wanted to take.
As for the competition, he said: “Everyone had really good machines.”
Pitts described nationals as being exciting and nerve-racking.
“It was a lot of fun, though,” he said.
Pitts said the biggest perks of winning a national championship is bragging rights.
“It helps on the resume,” added Sarauer.