County Robotics team gets at-large bid to World Championships

The Lee County Robotics Team received a special invitation to the World FIRST Robotics Competition in Houston this weekend. They are looking for help raising funds for the trip. Courtesy photo

Group looking for last-minute funding to help offset costs of trip to Houston


FORT MADISON – The Lee County Robotics team, Lc3 Thunderbirds, is in full go mode today as they prepare to head to Houston for the World F.I.R.S.T. Robotics Competition this week.

The team placed 40th out of 45 at the Iowa Regional competition a couple weeks ago, but earned Rookie of the Year honors at the competition for their effort and support of other teams.

That award kicked them into a lottery of sorts for the world championships that start Thursday in Houston and the Fort Madison school board gave emergency authorization for the group to attend at Monday night’s board meeting.

Several students and coach Shalisse Johnstun were at the meeting in support of the experience for the team. Ten students representing all three Lee County public schools are on the team and will be making the trip to Houston.

“Although this is a crazy and last-minute thing, it’s an immense opportunity for the kids. This is just the start and the team will be growing next year and beyond,” Johnstun said Tuesday.

The Lee County Robotics team’s robot (8822) lifts itself off the ground in the lower right corner as action takes place on the floor of the Iowa Regional Competition last week. Image courtesy of FIRST Inspire webcasts

Shalisse and her husband Joe Johnstun have been mentoring and coaching students in the program for the past seven years. The ROBOTICs team program has grown from a club, to a team at the Elliott Test Kitchen, to now being hosted and sponsored by the Lee County Economic Development Group.

Joe Johnstun said the 40th place finish at the Iowa regional competition was better than the team had expected to do, but it was the grace with which the team handled itself during the competition that drew attention.

“That told us that our hard work had been noticed. Other teams appreciated us being helpful and kind and keeping a positive attitude,” he said.

The team won Rookie of the Year status despite having competed at competitions for the past six years, because it was the first year they represented Lee County as a whole.

The team has a GoFundMe page set up at Type Lee County Robotics in the Search link and then click on the corresponding page for Team 8822.

Joe Johnstun said the team got a note from the directors at the regionals that the Rookie of the Year award entered them into the lottery to go to the World championships. They were notified Monday morning at 6:30 a.m. they had been selected. They have to be in Houston and have the Robot and the pit area set up Wednesday so they are leaving Tuesday evening.

The competition is the same as the regional competition.

The Robot has to be programmed to shoot sponge balls at large metal hoppers and points are awarded for successful shots. Points are also awarded for autonomous movement of the unit prior to the shooting session. Additional points are awarded for the Robot being able to lift itself off the ground by grabbing onto a bar, and then bonus points are issued if the Robot can climb a set of bars.

Johnstun said the Lee County Robot hasn’t yet been able to climb, but is programmed to hold itself up and can sustain autonomous movement. He said team members helped other teams at the regional program the autonomous movement drills and were recognized for their help.

The difference in this competition is that there are six divisions and more than 200 teams from around the world competing.

The GoFundMe page has a goal of $7,000 dollars for the trip with less than $2,000 currently raised, and Johnstun said some of that reflects funds raised to pay for the regional event.

Those interested in supporting the effort can donate at GoFundMe or drop off a check at the Lee County Economic Development Group at 2495 280th Street in Montrose.

“We’re desperate for funds and we’re kinda in panic mode. We thought we would be able to leave Wednesday morning, but we got the schedule for things Monday afternoon and saw we have to have the Robot and our pit set up by Wednesday at 2 p.m. so we have to leave tonight.”

The Lee County Economic Development Group is helping with some of the initial funding and the Johnstuns are contributing some personal resources to the effort.

Johnstun said registration for the event is $5,000 and the group has travel, lodging, food and transportation expenses to cover.

He said the team has been working with the robot to improve efficiency and scoring, but he said the trip will be more about enjoying the experience and meeting different kinds of people doing the same thing.

Climax Molybdenum and Axalta have made contributions to help cover some of the expenses and Keokuk School District has contributed $1,000.

There will be a livestream at and the Lee County team is Team No. 8822 Lc3 Thunderbirds. The competition schedule hasn’t been released yet. The regional contests can be watched on the FIRST webcast at

Johnstun said if there was time and the team had the energy after three days of competition they would like to take the students to the Houston Space Center before returning on Sunday.

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