The state Destination ImagiNation tournament was held in Dallas this year. We were so excited to compete and enjoy the fun. We did not have much time to work on polishing their performance after the regional competition because of other commitments, so we had decided we would just go to state with whatever we had prepared from the last round of competition instead of rebuilding things. We were determined to have a great time enjoying the pin trading, parties, and fun without worrying about the scores too much.
We drove to Dallas on a Friday afternoon (the kids skipped school that day) and checked in to our hotel. We picked a hotel with a pool, so the kids really enjoyed taking advantage of that feature Friday afternoon. Friday night was the massive pin trading party, where thousands of kids filled a stadium and bartered collectible pins with each other. It was SUCH fun. Several parents join in the trading fun, and I really enjoyed joining in the fun as well. Sarah's favorite pin this year was a pair of cute blue cowboy boots.
After staying up late trading pins for hours, we went back the the hotel, where people were so wired up and anxious about tomorrow that sleep was an elusive goal for a long time.
The competition itself was rather chaotic in the halls and courtyards of the venue. It was a crush of thousands of people all competing and moving through halls with huge backdrops and props.
When we went into the instant challenge, my heart instantly fell when I saw two vertical wooden posts on the table. I knew it was a bridge-building challenge....and this is the type of challenge that is our weakest spot. Performance-based challenges were a piece of cake for our team, engineering-based challenges were only so-so.....and I had only practiced ONE bridge-building challenge with them this year. I hadn't really spent time on the architecture concepts to teach them what elements make a strong bridge that can hold weight or span a significant distance. They glanced at me nervously and I felt like we were pretty much already out of the running for placing high on scores.
They were given two pieces of paper and two mailing labels and they had to build a bridge that arched as high as possible away from the table (the height was a scored element), and spanned the long distance between the two wooden poles. The bridge had to be free-standing, so it couldn't be attached to the poles in any way. It also couldn't touch the table. They were also scored on the creativity of their design and their teamwork. Bridges that fell scored a zero.
To my surprise, the team pulled together in a remarkable way. They had fantastic teamwork and they successfully completed the challenge. Sarah had a unique idea on how to anchor the bridge without breaking the rules, so their bridge was stable. It was a really creative approach and one judge accidentally gave a verbal slip and mentioned that they hadn't seen any other team use an idea like that. We felt good about our Instant Challenge performance, and felt confident we'd end up overall in the middle of the pack regarding final scores.
We had a wonderful surprise this day when Nana Kingsley and Grandpa Kingsley arrived to see the team performance. They had driven several hours from Shreveport Louisiana just to watch this 8 minute performance. We were delighted to have them there, and they seems to enjoy the presentation. What a treat it has been living so close to some grandparents. We feel spoiled!
Look what a surprise we discovered in my hotel room after the competition! For the past three years, my birthday has always fallen on the State DI competition, so I've always been away from home.
Sarah and Nana had conspired to sneak away my room key, then Nana and Grandpa had stopped at the hotel to decorate and leave these treats and surprises. This was such an unexpected gift. we had everything we could possibly need for a birthday party in our room- hats, noisemakers, birthday cake with candles, balloons filled the floor and my bed, and we had plenty of fun treats to enjoy together.
After hastily putting away a few lunch leftovers in our fridge, we dashed away to get a quick dinner and head to the awards ceremony. We took along the party hats for a fun team solidarity prop, and a backpack filled with birthday treats.
Here is our entire group- Eliza with her parents, then our family. Goodness, we spent so much time together this year! Eliza was more like a family member than a friend.
The doors always open an hour before the ceremony starts, and the stadium is filled with music and dancing while we wait. We were SO excited to continue our team tradition of handing out Mardi Gras beads.
We had exhausted our supply of beads at the regional competition a month earlier, so Nana Kingsley spent a few days collecting old beads from her friends and neighbors in Louisiana- where there is no short supply for beads. Nana brought several bags filled with hundreds of beads.
We'd load our arms with necklaces, then run around the stadium tossing them into the crowds.
Oh my goodness! It was such fun! We would twirl a bead a string of beads above our head and smile at the crowd. Then the crowd would all rise to their feet and wave their hands in the air and scream to get our attention so they could receive beads. It was like being a celebrity the way we were so enthusiastically received by the crowds.
The atmosphere at the award ceremony is very much like a party. It's noisy and festive and full of adrenaline. The noise makers we discovered in my hotel room were a perfect addition to the environment.
After spending one hour passing out hundreds of beads and enjoying ourselves thoroughly, it was time for the awards to be given out. I was packing and preparing to move cross country in the month leading up to the competition, so we didn't have time to really practice or polish their performance. We had just planned on enjoying the fun and festivities of the state competition and ending there for the year.
When they announced that we placed high enough to advance to Global Finals we couldn't believe it. Ironically we wanted to go to globals so badly in years past and this was the first year that it wasn't something I wanted to do. We had so many huge obligations coming up as we prepared our house for sale and finished Nathan's job hunt and packed for a move. But when they announced us we all flew out of our seats, screaming and ecstatic.
We were so shocked and pleased that finally we were going to advance to the Global Finals. Advancing to Global Finals from Texas is extremely difficult in Destination ImagiNation because this state is the most competitive place in the world for this program. The bar is set so ridiculously high in Texas competitions. Last year my elementary team designed their own circuit board, built it themselves, and wrote their own software to control it. We still missed advancing to Global Finals, just barely.
The bar is is set so high at each competition here that the types of creations/performances that win in the regional competition from Texas are on par with a type the things that would be sent to global finals other states or countries. I couldn't believe our little team which was only half the size (most teams have 7 members) beat the other teams that had more funding and more resources than we did.
We were on cloud nine all night and couldn't stop squealing and jumping and hugging each other as we went for the winning portraits backstage. There was a photographer there to take official portraits but I snapped my own portrait in the hall on our way back to the stadium. Sarah's face says it all. I'm not sure what Matthew was thinking, maybe he was disappointed that there is still more Destination ImagiNation work to be done for the year?
It's kind of funny that we were in the middle of moving this year because our other teammate Eliza was also moving the same weekend we were. I looked at Erin, Eliza's mother, and we weren't sure how we were going to make things happen and how we were going to raise enough money for this trip. I did know that I was not going to let this opportunity slip through our fingers without trying my very best to get us there. As far as I knew this would be a once in a lifetime event.
And so we began the long process of fundraising for a Global Finals trip to Tennessee. The registration fee was $1000 per student and that didn't count any of our travel costs. Sarah and Matthew worked very hard for weeks doing lawn care in our neighborhood and babysitting to raise money.