Challenge master blends work, quirk

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Challenge master Chris Welp of Ferdinand examined a structure during the Twist-O-Rama challenge with Forest Park sophomore Phillip Rogier, left, at Destination Imagination’s Southwest Regional at Forest Park High School in Ferdinand on March 9. Welp, who participated in Destination ImagiNation when he attended Forest Park, still actively participates in the organization.

Herald Staff Writer

FERDINAND — Intellect was not the thing that immediately set Ferdinand resident and veteran Destination ImagiNation challenge master Chris Welp apart from appraisers at the southwest Indiana regional last month at Forest Park High School. His Great White Shark hat did.

With the apex predator’s teeth circumnavigating the 33-year-old Ferdinand resident’s cranium in a big gulp frozen in felt, who would have guessed he was both a DI challenge master and lead computer system architect/programmer for a Chicago-based company?

The comical sight of a shark that had clearly bitten off more than it could chew was one of the funniest silly hats at the DI regional, but it wasn’t the only one. Welp had implored all the appraisers on his “structure challenge” crew to find a funny hat. From years of experience, he knew it was a way to alleviate some of the jitters experienced by kids tackling the Twist-O-Rama challenge he was in charge of judging.

Destination ImagiNation, or DI for short, is a creative problem-solving competition designed to teach life skills, expand imaginations and reward teamwork. It requires two- to seven-member squads to perform practiced team challenges, then switch gears for an instant, improvisational challenge meted out on the day of competition.

Welp has been involved with DI for years. It started when he competed in its precursor program, Odyssey of the Mind, or OM, as a seventh-grader. He has always stuck with the structure challenge, first under OM and then with DI. In the 1990s, he and a core group of teammates and friends built on successes until they made two trips to DI’s international final, finishing sixth in the world once.

After high school, DI officials asked him to begin judging at the regional tournament level, which is something he’s continued to do since graduating high school. After several years as a head appraiser, he elevated to the position of Indiana’s challenge master for the structure challenge about nine years ago.

As an Indiana challenge master, Welp must ensure that, throughout the state, volunteers fairly appraise entries and host tournaments that run smoothly. He promotes the challenge, educates teams and keeps abreast of interpretations and decisions made by DI’s international challenge masters.

Welp leads challenge-specific appraiser training sessions during the year to prepare volunteer appraisers for evaluating and scoring teams at the next round of tournaments. He’s also a presenter at “skills days” that help the kids and the team managers involved in DI understand the coming year’s challenges and guide them in exploring possible solutions.

“For me,” Welp said, “the biggest challenge is usually trying to ensure the appraisal teams are well staffed with trained volunteers who embrace the spirit of the program.”

This year was special. DI’s southern Indiana regionals traditionally had taken place at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany. The 2013 southwest regional was held at Forest Park for the first time and, for Welp, it was definitely a family affair.

Indiana DI cornerstone Sharon Gramelspacher, a math and algebra teacher at Forest Park, gets credit for bringing a young Welp into the DI fold when she formed a structure challenge team as a class project. By the time she began asking an older Welp to assist as a tournament judge, “I was in too deep” and could not refuse, he said.

Gramelspacher served as co-director of last month’s tournament alongside Teresa Endris, a DI regional director. And there was Welp, who had surrounded himself with DI-veteran appraisers from Dubois and Spencer counties. He even involved his father, 62-year-old Ferdinand-area home builder Gene Welp, who was put in charge of structure check-ins and technical inspections.

Welp gathered his appraising and judging team on the floor of Forest Park’s auxiliary gym before teams began arriving and went step by step through what they would be seeing.

“What am I doing wrong?,” he asked as he purposely did something out of order.

He told his appraising team about things that would not be an issue 99.9 percent of the time, then went over what to do during a one-tenth of 1 percent occurrence.

After each team finished its performance and had its structure tested at the tournament, Welp milled about the gym floor talking with DI participants.

“Great job, guys,” he told 11-year-old Xavier Marquez, 10-year-old Daniel Oberdieck and 9-year-old Diego Marquez after their team from St. John’s Lutheran School in Lanesville was finished.

Welp says participation in DI was a valuable experience that helped him in his career and he’s pretty sure the brainstorming that today’s participants do will help them in the same way.

The 1997 Forest Park graduate went on to graduate from Indiana University in 2001 with a computer science degree. He and his wife, the former Sally Lueken, live in Ferdinand with their children, Miles, 6, Nora, 4 and Clark, 5 months. Welp works from home for Chicago-based CIC Plus, a company that provides online pay stubs and other online e-forms for business.

His next DI duty will be working the Indiana affiliate finals Saturday, April 13, at Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers. Twenty local DI teams advanced from the regional in Ferdinand and will compete in that final.

Contact Bill Powell at

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