By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer
— Sugar the pink-spotted cow from Cowtopia searched on Moo-Harmony for the perfect bull to take to the ball.
She scrolled through her mooPad — made of a cardboard box, cardboard tubing, paper and duct tape — until she found a bull that caught her eye.
“Moo-la-la,” Sugar said. “He’s perfect.”
There was only one problem. The bull was from Earth.
How would Sugar reach him?
Tyrone, known as the scientist of Cowtopia, had an idea. Sugar could use his portal, the Wind Ray 2.0, to open an entrance to Earth.
A group of Eastern Junior High School and Acacia Academy seventh-graders performed this skit for the residents of Century Villa Health Care on a recent evening. The project earned them a spot in the Destination Imagination Global Finals later this month.
Destination Imagination is an educational program where teams of students solve open-ended challenges and present their solutions at tournaments. And they do all of it without any help from adults.
The six students on the team chose to tackle the science project “Windvisible.” They were challenged to explore how the science of wind energy can be used to make kinetic art move. They had to create a piece of kinetic art that moves continuously for 15 seconds during their presentation. They also were tasked with creating an original story that features an invisible character and incorporates some of their wind energy research.
And, oh yeah, they have only a $125 budget to work with.
Most of their props and set were crafted from recycled materials.
Their costumes were made out of old T-shirts, headbands and an apron they sewed themselves. Even their portal was recycled. They gutted an old box fan, removing everything but the blades. They glued a decorated piece of foam to the blades to make it look like a swirling vortex.
They use an old hair dryer to turn the blades and get the vortex to move. Even figuring that out was difficult, though.
The kids tried pointing the hair dryer in different directions and at different angles to keep the fan blades moving.
“It took us a while to get the right angle to get the fan to move,” said Levi Hanny, who plays Tyrone the scientist.
But creating the wooden backdrop and storyline were even harder.
They created one whole script only to realize days before regionals they weren’t following the rules for the invisible character. They scrapped it and started over.
Two days before the regional competition, the kids had nothing. They were frustrated and ready to give up, team manager Debbie Everling said.
“It just wasn’t coming together for them at all,” she said.
Everling wanted to help them, but she couldn’t. Rules of the competition forbid adults from providing suggestions or advice to the team members.
She encouraged the kids to go home and get some rest and try again the next day. So they met the night before regionals and started working.
They wrote a new script. They built an entire wooden backdrop using table saws, jigsaws, hinges and other supplies.
“Using the power tools was interesting,” said Kaitlyn Alexander, who plays Foofoo the cow. “It took four of us to get hinges on.”
But they finished it. They went on to win regionals. Then they won state, too, earning a spot in the Global Finals in Knoxville, Tenn.
As they waited for results at the state competition, they sat on a gym floor holding hands. Some of them cried. When they found out they won, the children said they didn’t know what to think. They were so excited, they said.
“I slept with the trophy that night,” said McKenna Malott, who plays Sugar.
Everling said she was proud of the kids. They fought hard to make it this far, and they’ve learned a lot along the way, she said.
“They definitely do learn skills,” she said. “They learned confidence in themselves. They learned to think outside the box. They’re learning to solve challenges on their own.”
In less than a week, Malott, Hanny, Alexander, Arhea Pugh, Lizzy Smith and Sam Everling will join more than 10,000 of their peers from more than 20 countries around the world to perform their skit one last time.
The students said they aren’t nervous. This one is all about having fun.
“The winning part is getting there and having fun and meeting people,” Malott said.