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Destination ImagiNation competitors surprise themselves at Global Finals

Representatives to the 2009 Destination ImagiNation Global Finals in Tennessee hold the banner created by Hudson's first global championship team. In front, from left, is the Hudson Prairie Elementary team of Maiya Koch, Mady Haines, Kenzie Drace, Emma Olson, Kelly Holm, Sigrid Ellingson and Sarah Potter. In back, is the global champion Hudson Middle School team of Abby Duerst, Kevin Pelzel, Erin Coyer, Ty Davis and Seana Greene. Photo by Randy Hanson

Abby Duerst hasn't gotten used to being a global champion.

"It's still sinking in. Like, I'm so surprised," the seventh-grader said five days after returning from Knoxville, Tenn., with a Destination ImagiNation championship medal.

Duerst's Hudson Middle School team placed first in its age group in the Instinct Messaging challenge, besting 64 other teams from 42 states and five foreign countries that made it to the Global Finals in the category.

"Once they called second place and all the special awards, I was just kind of like, there's no way we got first," reported Erin Coyer, the other seventh-grader on the team.

Teammate Seana Greene, an eighth-grader, said she was shocked when the award presenters called the Hudson team to the stage to get its global championship trophy in front of close to 20,000 people inside the University of Tennessee's Thompson-Boling Arena.

"I felt like I had bubbles in my stomach," Greene said.

Ty Davis raced down the stairs to the stage so fast he had to wait for teammate Kevin Pelzel and the girls to catch up. The team's dash to the stage is part of a two-minute video of the closing ceremony on the Web site

Some 11,000 Destination ImagiNation teams in 44 states and 14 countries began the season last fall with the goal of being a regional champion. So advancing to the Global Finals -- and coming home a winner -- is a big deal.

And the middle-schoolers weren't the only team from Hudson that made it to the finals and performed exceptionally there.

Seven fourth-grade girls from Hudson Prairie Elementary placed fifth in their age group in the ViDIo Lit Hits challenge.

The girls - Kenzie Drace, Sigrid Ellingson, Mady Haines, Kelly Holm, Maiya Koch, Emma Olson and Sarah Potter - retold the tale of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" in the form of a music video with original lyrics, choreography and costumes.

"I was amazed that those little girls had so much comedy in them - all those puns," said Josh Kock-Fogarty, whose sister Emma Olson was a member of the team.

Kock-Fogarty was a member of the team that began Hudson's tradition of Destination ImagiNation success. He and Ashley Anunson, Emily Kepulis, Sydney Malanaphy, Adam Selon and David Sjoberg won global championships in 2004, 2005 and 2008.

Melissa Olson, mother of Josh and Emma, managed the Prairie Elementary team that placed fifth out of 70 teams in its category at the Global Finals.

About Destination ImagiNation

Destination ImagiNation is a creativity program that requires students to apply writing, acting, art, math, science, research and other skills they've learned to solve real problems.

Each fall, five different challenges are issued. Teams select a challenge and present their work on it in the form of a skit at a regional competition in March. The teams compete in three age groups - elementary, middle and high school - and the top two in each age group for each challenge advance to a state competition in April.

The winners in the state and foreign-country competitions advance to the Global Finals held on the campus of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville each May.

The 2009 Global Finals were held May 20-23.

The Hudson teams traveled to Tennessee in two caravans, leaving Tuesday, May 19.

Roger and Laura Davis, Lois and Dennis Duerst and their son Jacob, Lynn Greene and Kris Coyer accompanied the middle school team.

Roger Davis managed the team.

Another group of parents transported the fourth-graders in a caravan minivans and SUVs, with one of the vehicles pulling a trailer loaded with the team's props.

The teams stayed in student-dorm suites on campus with their coaches. They ate in campus dining halls, mingling with other youngsters from across the United States and countries such as China, South Korea, the United Kingdom and Guatemala.

Instant challenge

Besides presenting their work on their central challenge (worth up to 300 points), teams were required to participate in an instant challenge (worth up to 100 points).

Roger Davis says the middle school team's outstanding performance in the instant challenge is what won it the global championship.

With just a few minutes of planning, the middle-schoolers were required to use a cue ball attached to a pendulum to knock four billiard balls into the corner pockets of a table. They were given some materials they could use to direct the balls around obstacles blocking two of the holes.

The Hudson team was one of just two teams that got a ball into each of the pockets. The team also earned high scores on creativity and teamwork.

Its Instinct Messaging challenge was to write and perform a skit about how an animal communicates. They also had to design and build a costume depicting their featured creature - an African elephant.

The judges were impressed with their elephant and its robotically controlled trunk, ears and tail. Seana Greene and Ty Davis, who were inside the costume, controlled its parts with ropes and pulleys.

The elephant also squirted water from its trunk.

The elephant's PVC-pipe skeleton gave rise to the team's name - the Polychloride Vinyl Elephant Buddies.

No help from managers

"The thing about DI that makes it so unique is that it is all kid-driven," said Melissa Olson. "It's their ideas. Their brainstorms. They're the ones who have to compromise and collaborate. It really can't include any adult assistance at all."

The role of the manager, according to Olson, is limited to snack-provider, rules-giver and peacemaker.

"Snack-provider is probably the most important job," added Kock-Fogarty, who just completed his freshman year at UW-Madison. He has remained active in Destination ImagiNation as a judge.

The absence of adult direction means the youngsters do some of their learning through trial and error.

"You have to let them make mistakes," Kock-Fogarty said.

Fire truck welcome

The Global Finals participants were given a hero's welcome when they arrived back in Hudson at 10:07 p.m. Sunday, May 24.

They climbed aboard a fire engine at the Target store and rode it around town.

The celebration required some explaining to onlookers, the youngsters said, but it was a lot of fun.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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