SOUTHFIELD (WWJ) — A new season is upon the FIRST Robotics competition teams across the country, and Michigan leads the way with more high school teams than any other state.

Michigan surpassed California this year by adding 77 teams for a total of 280. California is second with 237 teams.

“Adding so many new teams this one year is a tribute to the needed growth in STEM education opportunities to keep our students strong and in position to secure brighter professional futures,” said Francois Castaing, chairman of the FIRST in Michigan Board. “It is a direct result of Gov. Rick Snyder and the Michigan Legislature in 2013 seeing the true value in FIRST Robotics programs and making extra educational funding grants available to individual high schools across Michigan to start new teams.”

Thousands of Michigan’s future engineers, scientists, math experts and a new generation of skilled workforce have set out on a design and build period which ends at the Feb. 18 deadline. Then they’ll compete in multiple tournaments taking place each weekend throughout the month of March and early April.

FIRST in Michigan continues to grow and add new district competitions in Southfield, Escanaba, Howell, Midland and Mason — to make for an action-packed 2014 season like no other.

FIRST Robotics (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a competition between high school teams that work together to build a robot out of a standard kit to accomplish a game-like task. Competitions look like a cross between a rock show and a state championship sports event, with professional lighting and sound and teams decked out in colorful, creative uniforms. Teams work with adult professional mentors who show them hands-on how much fun engineering, mathematics, science and technology can be. Inventor Dean Kamen started FIRST in New Hampshire in the late 1980s, and it spread rapidly across the country by the early 2000s.

The 2014 game, announced over the weekend, is called Aerial Assist. It is played by two “alliances” of three teams each. Alliances compete and earn points by trying to score as many 2-foot diameter, light-weight balls as possible in goals during each match, which lasts two minutes and 30 seconds. Additional points are earned by robots working together to score goals, and by throwing and catching balls over a 5-foot-tall truss as they move the ball down the field.

In the competitions, teams are assigned alliance partners on a random basis. After this round robin stage, the top eight teams are named to an elimination round and may pick alliance partners from the rest of the teams.

There are 15 Michigan district events now, enabling all Michigan teams to compete at least twice within the state. Similar to sports tournament formats, district competition scoring will then qualify teams for the 2014 Michigan State Championship, April 10-12 at Eastern Michigan University. From there, 32 teams will advance to the international FIRST Championship in St. Louis, Mo., set for April 23-26.

Michigan teams have been on the winning alliance at eight of the last 10 National Championships.

All competitions are free and open to the public. Here’s the schedule:
* Feb. 28-Mar. 1, Center Line High School and Southfield High School
* March 7-8, Kettering University, Flint and Gull Lake High School, Richland
* March 14-15, Escanaba High School and Parker Middle School, Howell
* March 21-22, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Traverse City Central High School and Midland Dow High School
* March 28-29, St. Joseph High School, Livonia Churchill High School and Waterford Mott High School
* April 4-5, Temperance Bedford High School, Troy Athens High School and Mason High School

FIRST also offers competitions for younger competitors — FIRST Lego League for children 9-14 and Junior FIRST Lego League for 6-to-9-year-olds.

More at or