The challenge for the 2011 Mind-A-Mazes competition incorporated a well-practiced art form amongst students: paper airplanes. More than 200 students from 22 schools in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District participated in the annual event on Oct. 8 at Soldotna Middle School.
Each year, a different problem is presented. This year teams were told they would be judged on four aspects of paper airplanes. They were distance, flight duration, accuracy and altitude. There was also a spontaneous challenge at the end of the competition.
For Evan Stockton, a fourth-grader at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary, the challenge was more difficult than it was for his classmates.
"I never knew how to make a paper airplane until I did this," Stockton said.
To make up for lost time, Stockton said he and his friend Alex made numerous paper airplanes to find the right design.
"We made some really good and really bad designs," he said. "We just made random ones, and that's how I came up with the 3-second one."
One of Stockton's planes hung in the air for a full three seconds, which he felt was an accomplishment in itself.
"When Evan did the 3-second airplane, I was pretty excited about that one," said Zion McEnerney.
Stockton was joined by teammates McEnerney, Braden Lemm, Jacob Cooper and Ryan Hill every day at recess to practice their strategies.
"It was worth it, because we got to go to this big gym with a ton of people," Lemm said.
The team, known as the Mysterious Sharpshooters, were led by fourth-grade teacher Jason Daniels. Daniels said he admired the team's work ethic.
"They worked really hard the week before," Daniels said. "They took time out of their recess, which for boys -- that's a big deal, that is a commitment, that's some dedication."
K-Beach's sixth-grade representatives, The Flying Rubber Ducks, were able to incorporate paper airplanes from the sixth-grade competition in their strategy for the big competition.
"We had these three boxes, they were full of paper airplanes," Conner Fowler said. "So we chose about 10 of them to go to the finals with us and then we narrowed it down to three paper airplanes."
His teammate, Brady Hanson, shared the secret of a perfect airplane.
"You have to fold it right and follow the directions," he said, without giving too much away.
The Ducks were led by sixth-grade teacher Patricia Haywood. Like the fourth-grade team, Fowler and Hanson were joined by Katie Richmond during their recess to plan their strategies.
At the competition, the Mysterious Sharpshooters had to wait for 42 teams before it was their turn to throw.
"We were the 43rd team, we had to wait forever," said Lemm.
Daniels said the wait was an advantage for the team.
"We got to see what the other teams had planned so we could make our own revisions based on that," he said.
For one of the Sharpshooters, the competition was a first.
"I've never really been in a competition like this, so this was my first time and it was actually really fun," Cooper said. "Performing in front of all those people -- it was less scary than I thought it would be."
The Sharpshooters placed 15th out of 58 in the competition, which was a good finish for the team. The team also finished second out of three teams at K-Beach.
"I was really surprised at how good we were doing and that we got second place in the school," Hill said.
At the end of the day, the result of the competition took a back seat to fun.
"I had fun with my teammates," McEnerney said. "Even though we didn't get a trophy, we still had fun and did our best."