ESCANABA — Escanaba High School’s second-ever FIRST Robotics competition kicked off Friday morning. The two–day event brings together forty teams of high schoolers from across Michigan with one goal in mind: to build a robot capable of accomplishing a unique task.

“This year, it’s ‘Recycle Rush,’ and this means that these robots need to be able to lift and carry and pile up different size crates and recycling bins,” said Marie Young, Escanaba Team 3602 coach and event coordinator.

“Last year was mostly throwing large exercise balls around the court and trying to get it in one goal or the other,” said Rian Kwarciany, a student at Gladstone Area Schools. “This year it’s more stacking, making sure your stacks are tall, making sure you have the bins on top the stacks to get a multiplier of points.”

In addition to veteran teams, many new faces have come to battle it out in the robot ring.

“We actually have a really good mix this year of newcomers, and we have some teams that have been around for over twenty years,” added Young.

“Being a rookie team, we’ve never really been in this kind of an environment before our last competition, and it’s pretty cool,” said Rudyard High School student Shari Butler. “It’s definitely hectic at times, especially when our robot decides not to work.”

Troubleshooting is just one of the things that participants in the FIRST Robotics competition learn in the six weeks they spend building their machines.

“Probably the biggest thing we’ve learned is when you work together on a robot, you become family with the robotics team,” James Emrich, also a Rudyard student, said.

“When you think of, again going back to the problem solving, the math skills, the teamwork skills, these are soft skills that the employers are really looking for, and when you add the technical skills like building robots — and their enthusiasm — our future work force looks pretty bright,” said Deb Doyle, Chief Operating Officer of the Michigan Works Job Board.

With the possibility of making it all the way to the world competition in St. Louis, the competitive spirit is a big part of the event.

“It’s not as hard as last year where it seemed like an impossible goal. This year, we know that we can make it and we’re going to do better,” said Kwarciany.

“We had not that much time last competition to get everything done and get it all ready, and we’re back and ready to fight this out,” said Maggie Aartila, a student from Marquette Senior High School.