When the South Carolina Future City Regional event gets under way at USC Aiken Saturday, Danielle Ligons will serve as a judge in the preliminary rounds for the middle school-based science competition.


The recent USCA graduate knows a lot about Future City. As an eighth-grader at Ridge Spring-Monetta Elementary/Middle School a decade ago, she participated in the first regional at the university.


“It was really amazing,” she said Wednesday. “We didn't know what we were getting into, as it was more involved than we expected. But we won and that was fantastic.”


The Future City Regional will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the competition at USCA's Business and Education building. The contest is just what the name suggests. Middle school teams will create a city 150 years in the future as an actual model, a written description and ultimately a presentation of their work.


USCA's Ruth Patrick Science Education Center is coordinating the event once again. The winning team will receive a trip to Washington, D.C., for the national contest in February.


“We have 23 schools with 52 teams, and that's incredible,” said Ruth Patrick staffer John Hutchens.


Participating schools in Aiken County include Kennedy Middle School, New Ellenton Middle School, North Augusta Middle School, LBC Middle School and Aiken Area Home Educators. Others include Merriwether Middle School from just outside of North Augusta.


The preliminary rounds will start at 11:30 a.m. and are not open to the public, although the models on display are open to visitors at all times. Three teams will be named finalists, and they will make public presentations to judges at 4 p.m., followed by the announcement of the winner and other special awards.


Mary Johnson, a New Ellenton science teacher who has coached the entire 10 years, is bringing two teams Saturday.


“The students always want to try it,” she said. “They learn a lot about what to do and what has to be done. They always pull through.”


The specific assignment this year is to build a city that focuses on storm water runoff. The students must decide whether to find ways to drain the water completely or keep the water and find a efficient way to use it.


In the first year of the event, Ligons' winning team went on to a larger regional in Raleigh, N.C., and finished a solid third. Then, in 2005, the USCA competition formally became the sole regional for South Caroline. Two years later, Paul Knox Middle School students Sydney Scaggs, Logan Smith and Julie Mundy took first place.


Scaggs and Smith, both now Clemson University freshmen, will join their former coach and mentor, Helen Campbell and Thomas Edison, as additional guests of the regionals staff Saturday.


Kennedy Middle School student Margo Gore got her first title a year ago with three seventh-graders – Makenzie Cude, Lacie Leach and Tyler Reedy. Makenzie and Lacie had wanted to earn a trip to the nationals ever since they were little kids. Both had gotten second place awards as sixth-graders in 2011.


“The experience (that) year helped us improve on our city a lot,” Lacie said in January 2012. “We saw what it takes to win and that really matters the most.”