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Was Cleopatra a dancing queen?

And were the pyramids really disco clubs for hip, happenin' pharaohs? So imagines one group of students entered in Odyssey of the Mind, a creative thinking contest.

By JAMIE JONES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 2, 2003


LAND O'LAKES -- Why, they wondered, did people really build pyramids?

The seven girls had done enough research to know that pyramids were tombs for pharaohs, filled with lavish treasures for the afterlife.

But that was boring.

Arielle Banaciski, 11, had a better idea: Pyramids were for happening pharaohs who wanted to "get down." Or, a place for princesses to wear glittering gowns and host hip hop parties.

"That's our spin," Banaciski said.

The girls, from Cotee River Elementary School, were among 500 students from Pasco and Pinellas counties who participated in the Odyssey of the Mind Gulf Coast Regional Tournament on Saturday at Land O'Lakes High School.

Director of the regional group, Freda Abercrombie, paced the hallways, holding a clipboard as she wished students luck.

On Saturday, 77 teams from elementary, middle and high schools showed judges how they would solve problems in six categories.

All but about 10 of the teams were from Pasco County schools, Abercrombie said.

For the tournament, students are supposed to do everything -- make costumes, brainstorm ideas, decide on solutions. Parent participation is not allowed. That's what Abercrombie, teacher at Weightman Middle School, likes about the program.

"It builds confidence," she said. "It lets them own the victory or defeat. And that's where true self esteem comes from."

The seven girls from Cotee River Elementary said they learned a lot on all those Saturdays they spent together, preparing.

"At times it was hard to work together," said Hannah Fregger, 10. "We all wanted our own way."

Jessica Fink, 9, said the process was painful but productive.

"You make good friends," she said. "It just expands your mind."

The group decided to dramatize the purpose of pyramids, offering both a factual answer and putting their own "spin" on the question.

Their eight-minute presentation contained a few rap songs, a demanding teenage princess, and a pharaoh who was killed by a falling disco ball.

In the hallway, after their presentation was over, Banaciski looked around and sighed.

"It was something to remember," she said wistfully.

Abercrombie planned to announce the winners Saturday afternoon. They can advance to a higher round on April 26 at the University of Central Florida. Ultimately, the groups hope to compete at the world finals in May.

-- Jamie Jones can be reached at 727-869-6245. Send e-mail to jjones@sptimes.com.

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