FIRST in the U.P.

MARQUETTE – After working out the kinks during its first regional competition, the Marquette Area Public Schools FIRST Robotics Team #3617, Cold Logic, is ready for its next big game.

FIRST – which stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology – competitions take place all across the country, with students building and programming their own robots to perform a particular task.

And as the country, as well as the state, continues to place a heavy focus on the instruction of science, technology, engineering and math, the FIRST competitions provide an avenue for students to test their own development in each of those areas outside the classroom.

Along with those academic skills, the Marquette students involved in the program are learning how to write grants and how to form lasting relationships with local businesses as they look to raise at least $5,000 each year – the cost to participate in two regional competitions and to buy the kit needed to build a robot.

The FIRST program also offers the chance for students who don’t enjoy athletic events to still participate in a little healthy competition. The robotics events, known as FRCs, pit one team against another in a showdown to see who can earn the most points.

Combining creativity with all the areas of STEM, each robotics team receives a kit made up of motors, batteries, a control system, a PC and a mix of automation components – and only limited instructions. Working with adult mentors, students have six weeks to design, build, program and test their robots to meet the season’s engineering challenge.

This year, the challenge was called “Aerial Assist” and required teams to build and program robots that could toss exercise balls into goals.

This weekend’s regional competition, which took place Saturday in Escanaba, had the teams pair up into alliances of three, with different teams working together to score as many points as possible.

Saturday’s competition marked the first time a FIRST competition took place in the Upper Peninsula.

Team Cold Logic placed 29 out of 36 teams in the final.

Based on that ranking, and whatever place the team takes in its next competition – slated for March 27-29 in downstate St. Joseph – the team could move on to the state championship.

“Overall, we’re really proud of the kids this year,” said team mentor John King, adding the team worked well through Saturday’s competition to fix the bugs in its robot.

During the first few rounds of competition, King said the students worked hard to fix the robot’s throwing apparatus, which wasn’t working properly until the final qualification round.

“The robot that we left with is definitely not the robot that we came with and right now we’re really excited to head down to St. Joe’s with a real solid robot,” King said.

King said he was pleased to see a FIRST event take place in the U.P., adding it will likely foster the growth of this sport.

“You could only imagine that it’s going to get bigger and better as FIRST invades the U.P. with all these rookie teams,” King said.

King said the facilities in Escanaba were perfect for a FIRST competition and offered Team Cold Logic’s supporters their first chance to view a match first-hand, rather than through videos or pictures.

“They got to actually feel the excitement that’s in the room,” King said. “That’s something that you can’t really explain. We’ve presented to the (MAPS) board and we’ve talked about FRC events for four years now, and Escanaba was really the first opportunity for people that can’t travel downstate to see one.”

Team Cold Logic is still relatively young, with only four years of experience to draw on, but that hasn’t stopped these kids from throwing their full effort into each and every competition.

“It’s amazing. We’ve retained a good portion of our original team,” King said. “We’ve got James Gladwell and Andrew Jennings who’ve been with us since the beginning. It’s amazing to see the amount of growth that they’ve had and how they’ve bought into what’s FRC and what FIRST stands for.”

Anyone wishing to make a donation to Marquette’s Team #3617 can contact King by emailing jking@mapsnet.org.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.