These girls are not easily stumped, so when they blurt out the words, “Wait, ... what?” they’re not admitting defeat, they’re shouting their team name. Five years after the team first came into being, its members still enjoy the Who’s-on-first style conversation that introducing themselves usually entails.
The team was formed for Destination Imagination, a nonprofit organization that holds creative problem-solving competitions for students from kindergarten to college level.
“Wait, … What?” consists of six members — Cassidy Bargell, Sarah Burke, Anna Mathis, Mairi McAtamney — who are currently in seventh grade, and Sydney Vargo and Delani Bargell, who are in sixth grade. The girls have worked together since their days as second- and third-graders at Dillon Valley Elementary, entering regional and state competitions.
This year the team’s cohesion reached an entirely new level when, at the state competition, it earned enough points to qualify for the Global Finals at the end of the month. Thrilled, the girls are now caught up in a flurry of fundraising to pull together enough money to take them to Knoxville, Tenn., where they will go up against more than 1,200 teams from 45 states, seven Canadian provinces and 13 countries.
The goal of Destination Imagination’s challenge programs and competitions 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 in the categories of teamwork and creativity.
“It’s nice because it’s for all kids at all levels,” said co-team manager Lori Burke. “Everyone brings their strengths to the table and it allows the kids to understand that everyone has something to offer to the team and they bring out the strengths of each other.”
For this year’s global competition, the girls of “Wait, … What?” have been asked to integrate forms of communication with their improvisation. They’ve spent their time researching, each one studying a different aspect, all the way from commercials and radio to interpretive dance and song.
Delani said she has enjoyed her research on CB radios.
“I went online and I looked up what CB radio was and some of the lingo for CB radio,” she said. “It was funny, just looking at all the different words that they come up with on their own.”
When sharing this information with her teammates, they were so enamored with the idea of radio ‘handles’ that they created their own, like Big Toe, Rubber Duck and Bubbles, giggling as they named them off.
Working as a team
Each year, from January onward, the girls get together and practice once a week.
“Sunday is the only day that someone doesn’t have sports or an after-school activity,” Burke said.
Despite the extra time commitment, the girls love their practice sessions. By now their interactions and improvisations with each other are completely natural. Even in a group interview, they bounced ideas and comments back and forth between each other easily. It wasn’t always so simple, however.
“Our first year, we had lots of trouble with the teamwork part of it,” Delani said.
The girls laugh at the memory, so different from the situation now.
“Since we’ve been together as a team so long, we know how different people react in different situations,” Sarah said.
They aren’t the only ones who have noticed the difference.
“It’s really fabulous to watch them grow and it’s so neat to see this group of girls continue,” said Jennifer McAtamney, the mother of Mairi and a Breckenridge councilwoman. “Every January when the email gets sent out, all of them are in again and they can’t wait to get together and start practicing again. … They just get along and they really look forward to this every year.”
Now, the girls are ready to make history by being the first Summit County team to attend the global competition.
“I’m looking forward to just the experience of going and doing all the activities,” said Sydney.
“A lot of times when we’re thinking about globals, we almost forget it’s a competition,” Sarah added. “There’s so many other things to do, like meeting other teams.”
The girls have had just about a month to prepare, including raising money to cover the cost of entry fee, lodging, food and transportation for the week of the competition. They need around $1,200 per person and have raised roughly $5,000 so far.
“It’s amazing how generous our community is,” Delani said.
Their main fundraising event is a spaghetti dinner and silent auction, to be held at the Elks Lodge in Silverthorne Friday. They’re selling tickets and talking to everyone they know.
While she hopes the girls can reach their goal, McAtamney also hopes that the team’s attendance at the global competition will emphasize the qualities of the Destination Imagination program.
“I really hope, too, this is an opportunity for DI to grow in the county,” she said, with its emphasis on STEM standards and creative thinking. “My kids do a lot of activities and I think it’s probably one of the best things that they do.”