By MEL MARTIN
WITH only three hours to go, the pressure was on and the tension within the small team was palpable.
But it would take seven Dorrigo High School students much more than a bit of stress to crumble.
And when the time came to demonstrate their talent, their outstanding teamwork came through, sending the students straight to the national Tournament of the Minds finals.
After shining through the Tournament of the Minds Regional Awards in the maths and engineering section, the Dorrigo High School team ? made up of Megan Shadforth, Blake Parbery, Krystal Everingham, James Taylor, Emma Goddard, and Josie Ellem ? blitzed their competitors in the State finals on Sunday.
"When they announced we had won first place in the State, it was insane," Megan said.
"We were jumping up and down and screaming, and hugging each other, especially because we never expected to make it this far," Blake said.
Not a bad effort for a small school of 214 students, especially as the problem they were given was far from easy.
"We had to make a machine that rolled a ping pong ball from a height down a ramp, then build a pendulum that would hit the ball into a target from 1.5 metres away," Blake said.
Then, within the same three-hour timeframe, the students had to write the script for a play to explain what the machine represented, build props and rehearse it.
"It had to have an environmental slant, so we decided to be pirates who urgently needed to get home to stop our forests from being cut down, arrrgh," Megan said.
"The ping pong ball represented the ship."
To complicate matters, the team had to come up with a spontaneous response to a problem that was given to them at an unexpected time during their three-hour timeframe ? invent a new button on a calculator.
So they invented a button that would scan entries and read the numbers out to ensure they were accurate, before going ahead with the calculation.
The level of teamwork was crucial, as it is a major aspect of the judging, but while there were some tense moments, Megan says they had one advantage.
"Coming from a small school like this, you have to get along with everyone," she laughed.
And proud teacher Joanne McPherson, who coached the students through their preparations and took them to Sydney for the big day, couldn't agree more.
"This was the first time we entered, so it was unexpected," Ms McPherson said. "We were very much the underdogs, particularly as we were competing against some prestigious Sydney private schools.
"We have very talented kids every year, with excellent skills, but being in a small school is an advantage, because the kids know each other so well. They've been through primary school together and the year boundaries don't exist here.
"I'm bursting with pride!"