North Star at La Crosse should be Minnesota's model for regionals going forward

Our team just got back from the Minnesota North Star Regional at La Crosse and it was by far my (and many teammates) favorite regional I have ever had the opportunity to attend. For context on the regionals I have previously been to, I have competed at Duluth ('22, '23 NL), and Minneapolis (22 'NS), and I attended Ventura County Regional for a few hours on qualification day this year. Before I get into why I loved this regional so much, I first want to thank all of the volunteers who put it on to make it such an incredible experience for our and many other teams. I’m sure it was a lot of work to get this event to run, especially when drawing from a Minnesota based crew. The event was spectacular and it couldn’t have been run without y’all.

The regional was this great for many reasons.

First the venue at the La Crosse center is incredible for FRC competitions. Everything is close to each other. The hotels are just across the street, the pits are a short walk away from the field, which is easily accessed from the stands. All of the concessions at the venue were great, not to mention the incredible ice cream shop right outside the venue as well. Volume in the stands was also much more bearable compared to Duluth, and while it did get loud at times, especially when there was a lot of cheering, it overall felt much more in control.

Next is what I thought made the event truly great: the number of teams. NS@LX only had 39 teams, and this was a game changer for the event. This made everything so much better, in many ways. Starting with the obvious, each team got significantly more play time. At NL, each team only got 9 qualification matches, while here, every team got 13, significantly more, as well as many more practice matches. It was easier to find a time at the practice field, good spots in the stands, etc. It also caused the whole event to feel more chill, and much more relaxing. In general, only having 40 teams at the event helped create all of this, and we’d love to have this kind of opportunity again.

Now the question is, how do we get these kinds of opportunities to be more frequent in MN FRC? Almost all other MN Regionals have (or nearly have in the case of Great Northern) 60 teams, and having this regional over North Star at Minneapolis costed 40 teams an opportunity to play. For the sake of not beating the dead horse that is districts in Minnesota and devolving this thread into another un-constructive argument on the topic (name a more iconic duo than CD and arguing about districts in MN. I’ll wait.), I think there may be a way to get this to happen while stuck in the regional model. The answer in my opinion, to continue hosting North Star at La Crosse (perhaps under a different name), while bringing back North Star at Minneapolis.

(DISCLAIMER PORTION: I am a young, most likely naive student that does not realize just how much work goes into running a regional. From what I’ve heard, FIRST in MN has enough volunteers to do this, but I could be wrong, and very much so.

Edit : It turns out the whole “do we have enough volunteers?” thing is pretty contested here so like I still can’t tell if I’m right or wrong

Not to mention organizing and financing venues, as well as the countless other things that go into planning events that I don’t know about, and would love to help with once I graduate)

With that being said, I think that more regionals like NS@LX would be the best way forward. For example, with 40 extra plays added by adding that regional, only 50 teams would need to attend at each other regional, significantly increasing play time. If another 40 team regional was added years down the road, all events in MN would be able to be capped at this 40 team amount. Not only that, but it would allow more MN teams, who are historically vastly underrepresented at champs the opportunity to qualify, opening up 5 more slots.

Overall, if MN wants to stick with regionals, I think this is the way forward. The quality of team experience at NS@LX was so much higher do to all of these factors. Once again, thank you to all of the volunteers who helped make this event run, and to the RPC for scrambling the event together after Mariucci Arena closed down for renovation. It was due to all of y’alls hard work that this event could come together in the first place, giving our, and many other teams such a positive experience.


As a captain apart of a FRC team in MN it is a bit of a struggle that most of the regionals in our area have over 50 teams competing. I know personally for our team we are now looking at 3 regionals that is not in FUM. When looking at out of state regionals such as California we have heard great things about them being smaller. Well I love how Duluth is handled (very similar spectacle to champs). It would be fun to have smaller regionals that have about 40 teams.

Our team always loves how well Duluth is run and that is why we always try to get in every year. I know personally when I graduate I want to volunteer there like some of the Alums from my team. But, I and the team also want to have a smaller regional experience that we just can’t find in the area. It’s why our team is now looking at doing three regionals next year which is going to cost us a lot of money but, I think will overall be a great experience for the students on the team to have a mixture of experiences.

I am kinda sad that this is where we are left. As a team we are very grateful that we have the ability and opportunity to go out of state next year and travel to another part of the country. But, a lot of teams in MN don’t have the funding to do so and won’t be able to get the opportunity to have the experience of Duluth or another similar type of event and also a smaller regionals that allows for a more personalize experience.


I’m pretty sure that they did have some issues finding volunteers at Northstar in La Crosse. Originally I wasn’t going to volunteer there at all but was asked to come down as both a robot inspector and a judge. So while the event may have looked like a duck floating serenely along the water, the people organizing volunteers were generating extreme cavitation under the surface.

I do agree that more smaller events are the way to go. To me, the ideal size would be 48 teams. But remember, that cutting the team count by 20% doesn’t cut the cost by 20%. The cost of the event management people, the event production people don’t change at all. The number of volunteers to feed changes very little or not at all. You may be able to use a smaller less expensive venue though, which might have a significant cost savings.

So there’s your homework. Find another venue like the La Crosse location that has enough room for a field, 50 team pits, and support areas that is close to convenient hotels and not too far for teams to travel and in a location people want to go.

Maybe that’s a small university either public or private (like Bradley that hosts the Central Illinois regional) that’s in a location with hotel space for 10 rooms per team plus 50 or so for volunteers. Maybe it’s a summer resort town that would love to have a revenue generator in March or April.

Those locations are pretty rare though, that’s why we’re seeing 60 or more teams at events, it’s the only way to make them cost effective, or at least not huge money sinks.


Smaller events? Hmmmmmm


Hahaha, running more quals was definitely fun, but slightly exhausting.


Willing to head 4 hours south? The Knapp Center at Drake University in Des Moines could hold a regional with a similar setup as CIR with a gym connected to an arena. If you really wanted to get fancy, it could also be further downtown at Wells Fargo Arena or Hy-Vee Hall.

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Smaller events are better than those 60+ events, but things kind of go downhill once you go too small. Past two seasons we attend Heartland (28 teams) and Central Missouri (27 teams) and only played 12 and 13 qualification matches with 10 minute breaks every ~6 matches. So, you don’t continue to see the benefit of additional matches but also get downsides of not meeting as many teams and a pretty shallow playoff pool. I would definitely aim for 35-50 teams per event.


I’d love to make all of our events a little smaller. The problem is, we’ve had volunteers pulling double duty at every event so far this year - Duluth, Grand Forks, and La Crosse. People acting as inspectors and judges, or inspectors and safety managers, or VCs and JAs… the list goes on. Some of that was due to weather - the storms during Duluth and Grand Forks scared away some volunteers. La Crosse had nice weather though - we just had trouble getting people to sign up for it!

I’m personally going from Finals Sunday to load-in Wednesday, a 72 hour turn around between back to back events. If all goes according to plan, this week will be my 4th week out of the past 5 volunteering, and the 5th volunteer role of the season. It doesn’t always go to plan, though - I was literally assigned to a different role Friday morning in Duluth as I walked into the venue, due to the needs of the event. I had inspectors that were assigned to additional roles Thursday morning as the field was getting set up in La Crosse.

We are still lacking volunteers across the board. I’m not the only one doing multiple events - practically my entire inspection crew last week was on their second or third event of the season. Most, if not all, of the refs were on their second or third event of the season. The big draw back to adding another event or two is the strain on an already strained volunteer crew. Please, help us recruit more volunteers, particularly ones that will help out at locations outside the Twin Cities!


Agreed, last year both of our team’s regionals were small (Heartland was 28 like you said and Central MO had 27 as well) and it wasn’t nearly as fun as this year’s Heartland regional (36 teams).

We got the same number of qual matches at both, but this year we got to see more teams and had a bigger pool for alliance selections. We’re going to Green Country next week (48 teams), and I’m curious to see how it’ll compare to the other events I’ve been to.

I agree with everything you mentioned. The extra matches were great, not only having 13 qual matches instead of 9, but we also got 13 practice matches on Friday before we decided to stop filling. That amount of play time is amazing for driver practice and for testing the robot mechanisms. I would have loved to have our regionals flipped this year, with the extra play time coming at our first event so we would be a bit more dialed for the second event.

But as already mentioned, there is a shortage of volunteers, which makes running more events difficult. It would be great to have a bunch of 45 team events instead of a few 60 team events, but until there are more volunteers it isn’t even possible.

It was also noticeably easier during our strategy meeting Saturday night since there were 20 less teams we needed to review information on. Our meeting ended up being about an hour and a half shorter than it was at NL this year.

Another interesting dynamic was that most teams ended up against each other at some point in quals. You don’t always see that with 9 matches and 60 teams, so multiple teams are able to go undefeated easier since they may not have matches against the other undefeated teams. At NL with 13 quals and 39 teams, most of the high win teams had matches against each other which removes the chance of multiple undefeated teams. This is neither good nor bad, just something I noticed since it was one of my first times at an event with under 50 teams.


The question then becomes in some respects – How do we get more volunteers at competitions? And – How do we train in more volunteers to help take on these more difficult roles?

I personally think there are multiple approaches to these questions. For example, putting greater emphasis on training during offseason competitions (which we already do a bit of, for example I was able to MC during the EMCC offseason), as well as reaching out to more volunteers – is there a way we could reach out to for example parents (or have teams reach out to their parents) to see if they would be interested in volunteering? That could be a very large draw of volunteer supply who would be interested in helping out. Back when I was still in competitive rock-climbing (before robotics took over my live haha) for example, my parents would volunteer as judges at nearly every event that I went to, and only got started because there was a culture that encouraged them to do so. Both of my parents were in La Crosse and I’m sure that they would have loved to volunteer if they were reached out to.

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After moving from Minnesota where I was a student and mentor on 2470 for 10+ years to Indiana and competing for the first time in districts, I don’t know if I’ll ever be happy going back to large-scale regional-style events again. I’ve been doing my best to compare and contrast the two different event styles but at the end of the day… Getting 12 qualification matches (24 between two events) with ~35 teams at each event is so much more inspiring than 9 qualification matches with ~50 teams.

I’ve been watching smaller regional events, like Heartland and Central Missouri, and noticed they take place in high school gyms. I know of several high schools in Minnesota that fit the bill to host an event of the size (Bloomington Jefferson, Bloomington Kennedy and Burnsville off the top of my head). From a facility perspective I think Minnesota has plenty of locations to host smaller regional events.

Some more food for thought: renting high school space is typically significantly lower cost than renting professional space.


From some 15 minutes of searching, Aldrich Arena in Maplewood or Bob Gelle Court at St. Olaf could be options (albeit both are smaller than the La Crosse center), and has options for dry floor rentals starting in March. What specifications are usually needed for FRC regionals in Minnesota?

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If you build it, they will come.

North Star in La Crosse is a terrible example since it was changed from its normal location, and the new location wasn’t determined until about as late in the game as possible. It’s also back to back with the actual 7 Rivers Regional in La Crosse so a bunch of typically willing local volunteers likely weren’t able to make both events work.

If you add another Regional in Minnesota, be that St. Cloud, Bemidji, etc. you geographically unlock a new pool of volunteers that likely wouldn’t be able to make a further location work. There are tons of people in Minnesota that don’t have time to volunteer 90 minutes away, but would happily do it down the street.

There’s a bit of chicken and egg discussion that always happens around these conversations.

“We don’t have enough volunteers so we can’t add an event”


“There aren’t any events within an hour of >30%* of teams in the state so we’re isolating tons of possible volunteer resources”

It’s generally been proven time and again that volunteers can be found when new geographic areas get an event… La Crosse, Iowa, Grand Forks etc. all have great local volunteer bases supplemented by a passionate traveling volunteer base.

I’d point to the Northern MN Robotics Conference as the best example for this idea… they wanted their own offseason event, so they started one. They got help in their first year from existing key volunteers, and from then on they’ve been essentially self-sufficient. They run their own events, and they do a really amazing job at it.

To me the critical resource is key volunteers. Minnesota has done a fantastic job of fostering an environment that has enabled a ton of young key volunteers to form. This is a dramatic improvement over the experience of many people 5-10 years ago and it should really be commended.

I’m aware of 7 MN FTA/FTAA/FTA-in-Training that we have in the state. That’s among the hardest roles to fill. I can think of 5 LRI’s off the top of my head but I’m confident @Jon_Stratis has a number of other people that aren’t far from being ready.

I think Head Refs are one of the key positions we’re pretty light on… but I’m sure there are some others we’re light on as well. Given the great volunteering culture I’m sure we have people capable of rising to the occasion if given the opportunity.

I’m reasonably confident we’ll see an additonal event added in Minnesota in the next few years. I’m also willing to bet North Star finds a better home next year considering Mariucci is off the table long term (by my understanding). Assuming we choose a good location for those events, I think a lot of problems sort themselves out.

Also FWIW:
Districts >>>>>>>> Small Regionals (30-45 teams) >>>>>>>>>>>>>> Large Regionals (50+ teams)

The spectacle of large events isn’t worth the difficulty of qualifying for Champs, and doesn’t offset the value of getting to play more matches for the same amount of money. We should stay motivated to improve the team experience locally through filling the needs to enable a transition to a better qualification system.

*Whatever the number is… not sure exactly


As someone who actively attends both a 50+ (formerly 60+) Team event (Orlando) and a now much smaller 30-35ish team event (South Florida) there are a certain number of roles that you need the same amount of volunteers for regardless of size (Refs, FTA, etc) however most of the positions you listed you do need less of with a smaller event. Thus less people needing to pull double duty

I know you already know this but just posting it for the continued discussions.


Hmm. Sounds a lot like districts… I quite like the district system.

I know it’s been discussed time and time again, but trying to come up with a way to have “a higher quantity of less expensive regionals with less teams, in smaller venues, where you get more Quals matches” is no less beating a dead horse than just arguing about the viability of the district system.

In my opinion, smaller regionals could be a potential step on the eventual path to districts. Adding one extra event is significantly easier than overhauling an entire system. FWIW I’m fully pro districts and would love for MN to be in one, but for the sake of this discussion, I feel like there could be a lot more productivity towards helping the team experience by focusing on smaller regionals, which seems to be much more likely to happen within the near future.

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The VC’s don’t have that information available to do that themselves. Our RD, Nicole, had a section in her email blasts (which go to the two lead mentors and whoever else has signed up for it) practically begging for teams to help us find volunteers for months, and we still ended up short.

Yes, it was determined late… but we’ve had the location for 6 months or more - the first reference I could find was in the 9/19 newsletter, and the first one to include a section asking for volunteers was in the 10/20 news letter. How much more advanced notice do you need? For those posting here… how many volunteer slots has your team filled at the MN/ND events this season? My team is covering 13 slots across events - for reference, we travelled with only 10 students this year.


That’s tough! Good (but unfortunate) for those volunteers though.

The amount of notice for the event location is far less important than the timing/location of the event. Per the next sentence after my statement that you quoted:

For us we have 3 mentors and 20 students (two of which can’t show up until 2 hours after practice starts so it’s just me vs 20 students…). Not a great ratio to enable volunteering. On the other hand the team had no mentors last year aside from 2 parent chaperones and only 12 students last year, so it’s a step in the right direction. I’m recruiting more mentors for next year and I’m anticipating that we’ll have at least 7, probably 8. Two of those are certain to volunteer, one as an RI, and the other as a CSA (aspiring FTA). I’m also anticipating tons of student growth next season so we’ll potentially have the ability to supply field reseters and other student-applicable volunteer roles.

Takes more than 1 year to build up the program!