Local middle school teams end robotics season with competition

BIG RAPIDS — Middle school students from across Michigan spent Saturday battling against one another in hopes of becoming one of the few champion teams of the FIRST Tech Challenge robotics qualifier.

The For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) qualifier was co-hosted by St. Mary Catholic School and Ferris State University.

“FIRST is a global movement to inspire innovators,” said J.B. Watter, coach of the St. Mary Catholic School robotics team.

For many students in the competition arenas or the work stations, known as pits, this challenge signified the end to their robotics season. For others, the qualifying match was the next step toward the state competition.

Among the 36 teams in attendance, four represented the Big Rapids and Reed City areas. Local teams included the Big Rapids Middle School’s Cardinal Nation, Crossroads Charter Academy’s Wire-Catz, St. Mary Catholic School’s Thunder Colts and Reed City Middle School’s Coyote Constructinators.

Students previously built the robots they used to compete in the challenge on Saturday.

During the matches, each team was paired with another group of middle-schoolers to form an alliance. Throughout the morning and afternoon, alliances were shifted and gave students a chance to work with peers from other schools. Students scored points by completing various tasks during each 2-minute match, including stacking foam blocks in a grid and picking up a “relic” to drop on one of the taped off squares outside the arena.

“This was our second qualifier,” Watters said. “After our last match, we made some modifications to our robot. It’s a constant changing, evolving and working project. Today we should have a pretty good day.”

When not in arena, team members had time to work on their robots and make any necessary repairs or watch other’s matches.

“Students come to robotics and learn how to fail and how to fix something when it breaks,” Watter said. “It’s important for students to know that math and science isn’t just a worksheet. These are real-world problems.”

Reed City Middle School robotics coach Bob Breedlove agreed.

“Robotics build teamwork skills,” he said. “There is a lot of problem solving and it teaches students how to overcome obstacles.”