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Destination ImagiNation

Some believe that creativity is inherent in a person; others believe that creativity can be learned. Whatever the stance, one thing is certain – the benefits of a creative society are plentiful, and Destination ImagiNation (DI) challenges students to experience problem solving, teamwork, and creativity.

Every year, over 100,000 students across the United States and in 30 countries compete in DI by forming teams and working for months on a solution to one of six DI “Challenges.” The teams then go on to present their solutions to these Challenges at regional, state, and global competitions.

This Destination ImagiNation team from Sevastopol hopes to make a return trip to Globals. Team members (front) Olivia LeMieux, (back, left to right) Forrest Rabach, Jared Meyer, and Danny Weber have spent countless hours on their Challenge, Breaking DI News.

Most of the schools in Door County have had or currently have DI teams, but it seems that Sevastopol has one of the strongest histories with DI and its predecessor, Odyssey of the Mind.

The DI program consists of six Challenges, which are released at the beginning of the school year. The Challenges are open-ended and focus on a variety of disciplines – literature and fine arts, technical/mechanical design, improvisation, structural, scientific exploration, and community service theme.

Sevastopol DI teams have participated in Challenges spanning all the disciplines; however, the Challenge the school is most known for is the structural. Historically, this Challenge consists of building a balsa wood and glue structure with the goal being to hold the most weight (weights are placed on the structure until it ultimately breaks). Along with the structure is an eight-minute skit that is performed while the weights are being placed on top of the structure.

This year, the structural Challenge is called “Breaking DI News,” with the structure needing to be constructed from newsprint and glue and the skit revolving around a newsworthy event in another country. This is one of the first times that the structure has been made out of something other than balsa wood (two years ago, it was playing cards). The structure needs to weigh less than 75 grams and be between 7.5 and 9” high, and all of the team’s props (save for their costumes and team sign) have to fit into a box that’s 48” x 30” x 24”.

In the case of the Sevastopol team, their newsworthy event is the route of the Tour de France. The skit describes the terrain and locations of the race and also introduces a cast of characters – Alfonso Smith, a fictional five-time Tour de France winner; Buddy Williams, a five-time Tour de France loser; and even Lance Armstrong himself. These parts are played by Jared Meyer (7th grade), Danny Weber (7th grade) and Forrest Rabach (6th grade). Eighth grader Olivia LeMieux is the team’s official structure builder, having built structures for most of the DI teams she’s been on. Two of those structures were helpful in placing second and fourth at the Global Championships.

The three boys on the team have all been to Globals before as well, so the stakes this year are especially high.

“Yeah, we’d all like to get back there,” Meyer says.

Before Globals, however, the team needs to make it past the regional championship (held this year at Sturgeon Bay High School) and the state championship (held at the UW-Stevens Point campus). This means almost three months of building structures, revamping skits, repairing costumes, and raising money for the team to participate even after their first competition in early March. Globals are held in Knoxville, TN the week before Memorial Day.

All together, the team gets judged on 400 points. The structure, even though it seems to be the most important part of the Challenge, only accounts for 170 total points. The skit and the style points for the team add another 130. The last 100 points are dedicated to what are called “Instant Challenges,” which are hands-on or verbal problems that require teams to engage in quick critical thinking. A long-term Challenge takes months to reach a solution; Instant Challenges have to be solved within five to eight minutes the day of competition.

Teams can have up to seven members – so at four members, the Sevastopol team has almost twice the workload of a larger team. And if this seems like a lot of work – it is.

“It’s a huge commitment on everyone’s part,” says Kathy Marshall, who has been coaching and coordinating DI teams for 11 years. “But the rewards and the transformations that I see in these students are worth it.”

She goes on to say that at the beginning of a team’s formation, some members of the group are shy, or not willing to take direction from another peer.

“All of a sudden, something happens,” she says. “They begin working together to accomplish this one goal.”

Teams meet after school a few days a week – and about two months before competition, they begin meeting every Saturday afternoon.

“We’ll probably be here every night the two weeks leading up to competition,” Marshall says. The “we” means the students as well as coaches Jennifer LeMieux, Annie Rabach and Marshall, as well as fellow DI coordinator Jerry Borkovetz, who’s been coaching or coordinating OM and DI teams since the early ‘90s.

When asked what they like most about DI, Meyer is quick to say, “getting to go to Globals.” The thrill of competition aside, all of the team members say that they like being with their friends – and working together to solve complex problems.

“It’s fun,” says Weber. “It’s so cool to experience all of these things.”

The Door County regional DI competition will take place Saturday, March 6 at Sturgeon Bay High School. Teams from several Door County schools will be participating. The Sevastopol Middle School “Breaking DI News” team will be performing their skit the day before on Friday, March 5 in an all-school assembly along with the other six Sevastopol DI teams. To learn more about Destination ImagiNation in the State of Wisconsin, visit http://www.wisconsindi.org, or for Destination ImagiNation’s official site, visit http://www.idodi.org.