For the past 3 years, I have acted as a team manager for Destination Imagination at my school in Guatemala, and each year, my team has earned a trip to Global Finals in Knoxville, Tennessee. This school year, I was blessed to manage the exact same team I had last year—the Aguaguates, the most wonderful group of kids any DI team manager could wish for. This group, all 7th graders this year, has everything needed to not only excel at DI, but also make a team manager’s job almost unnecessary. They have amazing team chemistry, and they understand the importance of teamwork. They’re crazy creative and hilarious and amazing actors when they get on stage. They push themselves to improve their performances. They know what they need to get done for DI, and they create their own practice schedules. In short, they are a DI dream team, not to mention really, really great people.
This year though, I took one look at the school calendar and decided that if the team qualified for Global Finals, I would not be going with them. The competition lined up exactly with the last week of school. It being my last year in Guatemala, coupled with the fact that I’d “been there, done that” at Globals two years in a row, and I decided that I would send another chaperone with the kids if at all possible. I even went so far as to talk with my principal about the possibility and brainstorm chaperones that would be satisfactory to the kids, administration, and parents alike.
But when the day of the national competition came, and our team won, qualifying for Globals, I knew right then that there was no way anyone but me was taking this team to Global Finals. I could say good-bye to my other 110 students a week early; the last week of May, my team and I would be in Tennessee. Their energy and excitement was just too contagious; I wanted to be a part of the experience one last time.
We aimed to make the most of the trip. Being Globals veterans, we knew how to maximize our schedule, and we squeezed in a lot. Even on the days when our schedule was packed, and I had to hurry the kids through lunch, tell them no pin trading, urge them to walk faster to get to the presentation on time, I still got no complaints, no whining, hardly even a rolled eye. There are not many groups of 7th graders who have the grace, maturity, and understanding to make a week like Globals enjoyable for everyone. Because of their cooperation, we balanced our time between pin trading, a trip to the Dollywood theme park, shopping, visiting the Expo on campus, and watching other challenges—especially other Guatemalan teams, and our buddy teams.
|Dollywood--ending the day with a water ride|
|The bus--where my team sang songs loud and proud each day|
Last year, my team was matched up with a buddy team from Duluth, Minnesota called Mission Improvable. The purpose of buddy teams is to make a connection between a US team and an international team. Last year, the two teams met each other and clicked right away. They had lunch together, and even practiced some improv (It’s safe to say Mission Improvable is the reason my team chose the improv challenge this year) and ended up being interviewed and getting on the news. Since then, the kids have kept in touch via snapchat and Instagram, and I’ve kept up with a couple of the team moms on facebook.
Both teams, the Aguaguates and Mission Improvable, qualified for Globals again this year, so we made arrangements to meet up and watch each other’s challenges. We realized belatedly that the buddy team—our friends—were the competition this year. But there were 88 teams in the Middle Level Improv category. The kids lightheartedly told each other, “we’ll come in 1st and 2nd place. Or better yet, let’s tie for first!” But none of us really believed we’d place quite that high.
|The Aguaguates and Mission Improvable|
The kids ended up being able to spend a lot of time with their Minnesota buddy team during the week. They watched each other’s performances (and I think both felt a little intimidated afterwards, because both teams did extremely well, and they were competing against each other, after all). For the most part, they ignored the competition and just enjoyed each other’s company, though. Friday afternoon, after we watched Mission Improvable compete, we found ourselves stuck inside the student union during a brief rainstorm. After the rain stopped, the kids stayed. For nearly 6 hours, they sat around a table, playing games, laughing loudly, snapchatting with each other. To me, it was beautiful that amongst all the stimulation of the Global Finals event, all these kids really needed to entertain themselves was—each other.
|Piggy back races|
The night of Closing Ceremonies finally came to close out the week. The kids felt good about their performance, and my team was pretty confident they would place in the top 10. I was preparing myself to comfort disappointed kids and hoping their hearts weren’t already too set on the trophy. 88 teams…we hadn’t seen all of the others perform, but I felt I’d watched 1 or 2 that did about as well as we did, and that had to mean there were others who’d been better than us, right?
Still, as we sat in the stands of the arena on Saturday night, I found myself planning out the route we’d take if we had to run down to the stage to accept an award. So perhaps I had a bit of a premonition that my kids had done really well, after all.
They finally came to our category. Places 4 through 10 were shown on the board. No Guatemalan team. I sighed inwardly; if we didn’t come in in one of those positions, we probably hadn’t placed. I looked down at my kids. They still seemed excited. Santiago couldn’t contain himself and was already standing up. Well, maybe they had a right to be so pumped. But I didn’t have a lot of hope.
Third place—not us.
Second place—not us.
Then the woman announced there was a tie for first.
The first team in first place, they announced, was a middle school in Duluth, Minnesota. Our buddy team!!
The second team in first place… from Guatemala City, Guatemala… US!!!!
I couldn’t believe it. I’m still in shock. What are the odds that not only would we come in first, but we’d have the opportunity to share the honor with friends. That neither of us had to lose, or come in second place. The teams had a celebration like you’ve never seen when they met on the arena floor to accept their medals. There were tears, and hugs, and a lot of cheering.
Nearly 24 hours later, I still can’t quite believe it.
What are the odds? Not only that the kids would win, but that they would tie with none other than their buddy team friends. It seems nearly impossible.