BIG RAPIDS — While they may be too young to have their licenses, area middle-schoolers spent Saturday afternoon driving, but they weren’t taking vehicles for a spin.

Four area middle school robotics teams were among the 24 participating in the Big Rapids FIRST Tech Challenge Qualifier at Jim Wink Arena on the campus of Ferris State University. The event was co-hosted by St. Mary Catholic School and Ferris.

The For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology program, FIRST, organizes robotics competitions nationwide at different age levels. In Michigan, the FIRST Tech Challenge level is open to middle school students.

Local teams included the Reed City Middle School, St. Mary Catholic School Thunder Colts, Crossroads Charter Academy Wire-Catz and St. Mary community team Lightning Colts.

With controllers in hands, members of the local teams “drove” and directed their robots to perform tasks and earn points during the competition’s matches.

“It’s my first year doing robotics,” said Megan Ebels, a sixth-grader on Reed City’s team. “I like being able to be part of a team and see our progress.”

Before the competition, each team had designed and built a robot. During Saturday’s events, the robots worked to shoot or place softball-sized wiffle balls into the “vortex” or target. Different targets were worth different points, and teams worked together in alliances to maximize their efforts. Alliances changed

throughout the competition.

Throughout the day, teams made adjustments to their robots and their strategy.

“We’ve done pretty well,” said AshleyRose Watters, lead mentor for the St. Mary community team. “We had some complications, but we’ve powered through it.”

When they weren’t in a match, teams could use a practice arena to test out their robots and fix any issues.

“Robotics is about communication, teamwork and learning to operate the robot more efficiently to accomplish the goal,” Rose said.

Saturday’s event was a learning experience for rookie teams, such as Reed City Middle School.

The team’s first practice was about a month ago, so there are many things still being figured out, said Robert Breedlove, co-mentor of the team.

“The day before competition was the first time operating the robot,” he said. “We are still getting a feel for it. We’re letting everyone take turns driving and operating. For getting such a late start to the season, I think we’ve done pretty good.”