A Decade of Perseverance: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey with DI

By: Tina Shaffer

When my daughter Sydney was in the second grade, I recognized her creative imagination and wanted to help foster this. I soon learned of the Destination Imagination (DI) program and started DI in her school. They chose the Fine Arts Challenge, and I became their Team Manager. The students had so much fun, they continued as a team when she was in the third grade. 
When Sydney entered fourth grade, we moved to Stevens Point, WI. DI was in the middle and high schools, but not the elementary school. I knew how much Sydney enjoyed the team meetings and the camaraderie with friends. I also thought it was a great opportunity for me to become familiar with the new school, so I volunteered to manage the team. This gave me great insight into how she was adjusting to our move and what was happening in the school. The team chose the Fine Arts Challenge in fourth and fifth grade and advanced to the Affiliate Tournament both times.
When Sydney moved on to middle school, I decided to again take on the volunteer role of Team Manager. What a great way to stay in touch with your child during the middle school years! A new team was established and they choose the Improvisational Challenge. The team advanced to the Affiliate Tournament each year (6th-8th) and in eighth grade took third place–so close to advancing to Global Finals! I recall how disappointed the team was, but how committed they were to keep trying to make it to Globals. 
As Sydney entered high school, there were other teams she could have joined but she wanted me to continue as her Team Manager, so I managed their Improvisational Team. Sydney’s team chose the Fine Arts Challenge her sophomore year and the Scientific Challenge her junior year. They advanced to the Affiliate Tournament both years, but still did not qualify for Globals.
It was now Sydney’s senior year. She and the team had one goal: make it to Global Finals. We had a team of only four students and to complement their talents, they choose the Project Outreach Challenge. They were extremely focused and worked very hard on their Challenge. They focused on the community need of distracted and impaired driving, motivated in part by alumni from their high school who had passed away from a drinking and driving accident. Their goal was to raise money to purchase a driving simulator to use for community education and then donate it back to the community for ongoing education. I saw Sydney and the entire team grow exponentially as they wrote donation letters, made follow up phone calls, talked on the radio and television, and interacted with professionals. They were even doing a phenomenal job of public speaking to large audiences of more than 200 people.  This was the perfect challenge for their growth onto college.
We met several times a week to keep up with the flurry of activities and to practice Instant Challenges. I had a book of DI Instant Challenges that I had purchased several years prior and we used this book religiously to practice both Performance and Task-Based Instant Challenges.  The students had a great story and created an inspiring movie and skit for the tournament. They advanced to Affiliate Tournament and, as you might have guessed, they finally made it to Globals! This was a dream come true for all of us. We had waited years to get to Knoxville. Their Central and Instant Challenges went very smoothly. When the team did not see their name on the 4-10th placing at Closing Ceremony, they all said it was a great year and had had at least made it to Globals. To our shock and amazement, our name was listed as first!  I remember the disbelief as one student said “way to go Stevens Point” and the other said “Hey, that’s us. We did it!” Yes, they were champions and so deserving. I was so proud because they were all my children by then. 
       Sydney Otis (left front) and Becky Otis (middle back) with team Stevens Point at Global Finals 2013 
With my daughter graduating, I retired as a Team Manager. In the fall, a middle school team reached out to my daughter, Sydney, to become their Team Manager. The team wanted to do the Improvisational Challenge and Sydney agreed help.  She was a freshman in college, taking 16 credits and holding a part time job, and volunteering as a Team Manager. She used my book of Instant Challenges that she so regularly saw me review and prepare. The team she managed had been together for a few years, but had never advanced beyond the Regional Tournament. With Sydney’s guidance, the team took first place at Regionals and advanced to the Affiliate Tournament.  I was given the opportunity to watch her manage the team as they prepared for the Affiliate Tournament and I was impressed with her abilities. The team took second at the Affiliate Tournament and advanced to Global Finals. I had watched her flourish throughout her DI career and now she was giving back to a team what I had given to her all of these years.  She was confident in her abilities to manage the team.  I recall getting the call from her when the team finished their Central Challenge at Globals. She said, “Mom, they nailed it.” On the night of Closing Celebration, I received a text message from Sydney saying that her team took first place in the Middle Level Improvisational Challenge. What a fantastic feat this was! She was a first-time Team Manager and not only took the team to Globals, they nailed it and won—an achievement that had taken me 10 years.
This was like a fairy tale come true for me. I am so glad I persevered all those years and gave of my time to help my daughter, as well as many other students, grow in their creative problem solving. As I reflect upon my 10 years of volunteering in the DI program, I am both humbled and honored to have been given this opportunity.
                          Sydney Otis (left) and her mother, Becky Otis (right) at Global Finals 2013

To read more about Sydney and her Steven Points team members’ journey, check out our Global Finals awards re-cap here