Last year, six Summit County girls were the first to represent their school district at the Destination Imagination global competition in Knoxville, Tenn. Although it was their first time attending the event, they placed 16th out of 75 teams in their age group. This year, the girls are going back with a new goal in mind.
“We want to crack the top 10 this year,” said group member Anna Mathis.
Team “Wait, … What?” includes eighth-graders Mathis, Cassidy Bargell, Sarah Burke and Mairi McAtamney, and seventh-graders Sydney Vargo and Delani Bargell. The girls have entered Destination Imagination competitions since they formed their group six years ago.
Problem solving under pressure
Destination Imagination is an education-focused nonprofit that organizes intellectual challenge competitions at local, state and global levels. The goal is to encourage learning and problem solving through creative means, with focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), the arts and service learning. Each competition consists of a challenge round and an instant challenge round. Teams prepare for the challenge round ahead of time and must think on their feet for the instant challenge round.
Challenges fall under the categories of science, technical, fine arts, improvisational, structural, service learning and early learning. Each team chooses a category focus and then completes the challenge accompanying that topic. The structural category, for example, requires a structure be built following specific instructions and using specific tools.
The instant challenge, on the other hand, is a complete surprise. The team has no idea what it will be until they walk into the room. They’re given a brief preparation time and then expected to perform for the judges. Points are awarded for teamwork and creativity.
This year’s prepared challenge required the girls to research job descriptions from the past and how they’ve changed, then incorporate that knowledge into a skit. The skit requires that the character from the past interact with a character from the present to solve a problem. The girls must not only create a plotline in which the problem is solved, but apply a specific style of make-up to the character from the past, and then act everything out.
“I think, for me, it’s kind of cool to learn about the different occupations from the past,” said Sarah Burke. “A lot of them are still around today but they’ve changed because of modern times, what we need and what we already have and what technology has helped us achieve. It’s cool to see how people functioned in the past when there wasn’t so much technology.”
Working as a team
Years of growing and working together have cemented the girls into a strong team.
“I’m just impressed with, each year, their level of enthusiasm to return and continue,” said Karen Mathis, Anna’s mother and former co-manager of the team. “They’ve been doing this now since second grade — six years — and it is a long time. They kind of joke about (that) they bicker about this or that — yes of course they do — they really have gelled as a team and they have really learned one another’s strengths and weaknesses. … They’ve supported one another over the years and it’s really impressive to see this longevity in this group of girls.”
The girls also admit that they’ve learned a lot about each other through the group. Cassidy Bargell, for example, offered that she often generates ideas, which the others step in to execute. Her sister Delani has been handling the make-up portion of this year’s challenge while her teammates create the skit’s plot. Even during their interview with the Summit Daily, the girls fed off of each other’s energy, offering ideas, agreement and encouragement with familiar, easy banter.
“This year we’ve worked really well together,” said Sydney.
The team took second place at the state competition in early April, clinching a spot to return to the global competition in May.
In 2013, more than 1,200 teams from the U.S. and around the world attended the global finals, with more than 14,000 people in attendance. This year, the organization estimates, will be the largest yet, with more than 1,300 teams scheduled to attend.
“Last year, we were like the newbies. We didn’t know what to do,” said Sydney Vargo.
“We were all really shell-shocked by just being there,” Burke agreed. “We got really nervous because it was a step higher.”
Now that they know what to expect, the girls are excited and have set a high goal for themselves.
Attending the event costs each participant $1,200, which includes lodging, meals in the cafeteria and participation. To raise money, the team is holding a spaghetti dinner and silent auction Thursday, May 1 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Lord of the Mountains Church.
The girls expressed their gratitude at the financial help they received from the community last year and added that having the support behind them is a big motivator for the competition.
“We want to do good at globals, to thank everyone who supported us,” Sydney said, as her teammates nodded.