- July 9, 2014
The stakes were high.
Austin Bankuty, a sophomore at Braden River High School and a Technology Student Association member, gently batted a blue balloon toward his teammate Callum Wilford, a freshman, who tapped a yellow balloon back toward Bankuty.
The goal was to keep the balloons in the air longer than fellow competitors junior Ty Moore and sophomore Evan Fisher.
The four boys were the last standing as three other duos saw their balloons fall to the floor one by one. Every time a balloon fell, a competitor was eliminated.
Maureen Hudson and Mark Patula, advisers of Braden River High School’s TSA, started making the game more challenging. A third balloon was added. The boys were told to sit down while keeping the balloons in the air, then stand back up.
The stress of the game heightened with every new challenge.
Finally, a balloon touched the ground. Moore and Fisher shouted, “No!” in defeat while Bankuty and Wilford celebrated their victory.
“Let’s go!” Bankuty said while throwing his arms in the air.
The balloon game was more than just a fun, competitive game among Braden River High School’s TSA members. It was an exercise to build camaraderie among the chapter’s members during a "bootcamp" at Holiday Inn Sarasota Airport Sept. 23-25.
Braden River held its first TSA bootcamp in 2019 after Hudson noticed the chapter was divided between freshmen and upperclassmen. She instructed the chapter’s officers and leaders to find a way to bring everyone together and know everyone’s input is valued and appreciated.
“We like the fact our freshmen are not scared to talk to the upperclassmen, work with them and be on their team, especially with the way we run TSA,” Patula said. “A lot of the work happens outside of the classroom. The freshmen might have a good idea, and it’s important that they can communicate that idea to our seniors and not be afraid to voice their opinion.”
Junior Roger Rodriguez, the secretary of the chapter, said the bootcamp is vital to starting the year off strong.
“In order to learn who you’re working with, you have to learn how to work with them,” Rodriguez said. “There’s only one way to do that. It’s just getting into a room and seeing what the strengths and weaknesses are.”
The competitions varied, but teamwork always was important, such as members putting on blindfolds and turning a rope circle into a square without looking. Bella Pasquale, the president of the chapter, said she already felt close with other chapter members and had learned more about the freshmen.
“It’s definitely a way for us to break the ice,” Pasquale said. “We’ve had our labs, we’ve met with our teams and introduced ourselves, but now we’re spending so much more time together.”
On Sept. 24, TSA members brainstormed about future TSA projects.
“We find we get a lot better ideas, and we hash out all the issues before we get to competition,” Hudson said. “It makes them take ownership in every event, not just the three or four they’re on. We always say we’re a team and even if you’re not working on that event, it needs to be important to you.”
After coming in second at the state competition last year, which was the first time in eight years the chapter didn’t place first overall, and placing third at nationals, the team is gearing up for another championship run.
“Anything less at this point is disappointing,” Patula said. “These kids have had it on their mind since February.”
Patula and Hudson said the chapter lost a lot of talent after some students graduated last year, but there are promising freshmen.
“It’ll be interesting to see what happens in regards to a shift in talent,” Patula said. “There’s some categories we’ve been traditionally strong in, and we lost some of those people. We gained some people where we probably were weaker in some of the categories, and they might be able to pull us up in those.”
The chapter wasn’t able to host bootcamp last year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“After COVID, I just love seeing them together,” Hudson said. “When you think of where we were last year at this time and where we are here, just to be able to do this, the kids were so excited,” Hudson said.