From Seward, to Hope, Nikiski and Homer, 48 teams from across the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District convened in the auditorium at Soldotna Prep School Saturday afternoon with one common objective — to win this year’s Mind Amazes competition.
For weeks the groups ranging from three to four members have been tweaking and modifying designs for the Long-Term Problem portion of the competition. The students created aerodynamic contraptions scored on how straight the device could travel and how far it could move with only wind to propel it.
Gabriel Miller, a member of The Sci-Fighters from Ninilchik School, had to fold in half the massive red sail that guided his team’s wheeled boat-like system just to get through the school’s double doors.
Brian Bailey, an organizer for this year’s event, said the annual competition teaches some very important skills to the participants.
Communication and problem solving are the main two, but he has taught his own students to learn how to be unafraid of fear.
“I think it actually helps to experience failure,” Bailey said. “But the students do get very competitive about it.”
When the competitor is not worried about the final outcome, they think more creatively, Bailey said. They are less afraid to take risks.
Two awards in the final competition are judges’ choice, Bailey said. So even if a group does not receive many points, if they designed a creative device to accomplish their task, they also have the opportunity for recognition.
The Long-Term Problem is only 75 percent of a team’s final score, Bailey said. The remaining 25 percent is from the Spontaneous Problem portion.
Huddled in tight circles around the gym floor, each team was given five minutes to use only a straw, twist tie, note cards, a paper bag, paper clips and tongue depressors to build a “string” at least 20 inches long that was also able to pull a small weight.
Wind Catcher team member Aleea Faulkner, from Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School, said even though her “string” broke while judge and competition organizer Karen Weston was testing the design, she was definitely planning to attend next year’s competition.
Weston said the number of teams entering in the program each year are limited, because the competition has become so popular. The largest number of teams that ever competed in one year was 55, she said.
Gail Moore was involved in organizing Mind Amazes for 18 years, and the competition has been held for the entire district for more than two decades. Now she volunteers during the event.
Volunteer Bobbi Baldwin said the groups are placed in two categories. The intermediate groups are made up of seventh-grade students through high school seniors and the junior groups are in fourth- through sixth-grade, she said.
Emilee Braun, Savannah Ley and Thomas Halliday, who made up the Nikiski Bulldogs team, were paired together because they had the same off periods. They agreed the competition was not too hard.
The Violet Variables won the overall competition and the three members that made it to Soldotna Prep on Saturday were thrilled. The Variable’s fourth member Lucy Hankins was sick and could not attend, said member Kylie Mullaly.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Variables member Nick Katsma. “I am so excited.”
“I got a case of ‘the shakes,’” said Variables member Elsa O’Neill. “It is the second year Seward swept the competition.”
O’Neill said during the test drive the cart started to turn and they though they were about to lose the competition. At the last moment the device corrected itself.
“Now we think Nick is a sorcerer,” O’Neill said.