With a simple design, constant work and endless practice, Lakeview student Kyle Mohrmann built himself into one of the best young robotics competitors in the world.
The second best, to be exact.
Last weekend in Council Bluffs, Mohrmann took part in the Competitive Robotics Enhancing and Advancing Technology Education (CREATE) U.S. Open Championship at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Through 11 rounds of preliminaries and then an extended trip into the championship bracket, Mohrmann, and his teammate from China, defeated the top two seeds before arriving in the best-of-three title match.
Mohrmann's robot, "Hold on...What?," in a partnership with "Family Chen A," won the first match but had to settle for second place when Mohrmann's machine broke an axle in the second.
Regardless, the tournament runner-up position was the latest successful robotics experience for Mohrmann, who also competed in China last July alongside three of his Lakeview teammates.
In Council Bluffs, he was one of 58 teams in what was the largest CREATE Open competition to date. He was second in every regular season tournament this season, second at state and second at the U.S. Open.
From Mohrmann's perspective, the pride far outweighs the disappointment for coming that close that many times.
Although he's put in a lot of time, work and effort, he has been rewarded with more than he could have ever imagined - an equation he learned early on about finding success in competitive robotics.
"I put in a lot of time and effort into it. I think that’s what really makes the difference between a good robot and an average one," he said. "My robot wasn’t the most complicated thing, but I spent so much time working on it and driving it, I knew every little thing about it. You get out of it what you put into it, and I put a lot into it."
Mohrmann, perhaps a perfectionist based on his design alone, began thinking about the specifications while in China then tinkered and toyed with that idea for about two-and-a-half months once the school year started.
He wasn't quite ready when the first competition on the schedule came up in November, but Lakeview teacher and robotics coach Joe Haschke had signed up for enough entries, with Mohrman included. Thus, ready or not, it was time.
That second place was followed by more runner-up showings each time out, in every case besides the U.S. Open, to a team from Cross County.
One of the losses included in the preliminary round, before finally breaking the skid in the tournament portion of the competition, setting the stage for a championship run.
Mohrmann went 7-4 in the preliminaries, good for ninth overall, and was picked by the four seed from China for the alliance round of the tournament.
Together, they defeated a handful of opponents including the team from Cross County, the No. 1 seed, in the second round of the bracket.
"He started out with a fairly simple machine and just made it very effective. It’s also one that’s very durable and will last," Haschke said. "A lot of kids like to start out with this overly-complicated thing. He just went with a simple idea that was well-crafted then built upon that throughout the season.
"As the season progressed, he mastered one thing and moved on to the next. I think that was a really good model for him to be successful."
Not bad for someone simply searching for something to do with friends they could enjoy together. And not only was it something Mohrmann delighted in during school hours and on the weekends, but he's also changed his mind about the future in large part due to his work on robotics.
Where once he aspired to be a computer programmer, he'll now study mechanical engineering at Nebraska with the goal of perhaps working for companies such as SpaceX or Tesla. Other opportunities might present themselves in college, but Mohrmann said he is sure he'd like to do something that helps to "change the world."
"It’s taught me how to be creative," he said. "I wasn’t all that good with coming up with ideas beforehand. But if you want to win, you have to do something unique other people aren’t doing. I’ve worked really hard at that, and teamwork in general, just trying to get along."
Hasche has no doubt whatever path Morhmann chooses to travel, the work ethic he displayed at Lakeview will pay huge dividends.
"To see a student as talented as him work so hard and see some great success, it’s really wonderful," he said. "I know he’ll see some success if he continues to do what he did on his robot. He’ll have some great success (at Nebraska), too. So yeah, I’m very, very proud and excited to see what he’ll do."
And while it may sound complicated or only possible for those scientifically or mechanically inclined, Mohrmann said it's, again, more about getting out what you put in.
"Anybody can do it if they really want to. You get in there, and there are lots of good people in the program. All of the coaches that I have met, and especially Mr. Hascke, are awesome at getting people started and learning the basics. And it’s just a good time," he said.
"You get to go to all these meets and meet new people. I’ve made so many friends. Even though you’re competing against them, they want to help you succeed as much you want them to succeed as well. They should all give it a try, guys, girls, middle schoolers."
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.