Odyssey of Mind team undaunted by 30th finish
The St. Petersburg High students are already looking toward next year's competition.
By DONNA WINCHESTER
Published June 7, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - Five students who have known each other for years returned from a world competition empty-handed but with big ideas for the future.
Alyson Walker, Tina Gromadzki, Alison Griner, Taylor Hoel and Andrew Buckspan, rising juniors at St. Petersburg High School, placed 30th in a field of 52 at the Odyssey of the Mind world finals held May 20-25 at the University of Colorado.
A sixth student, Kendyl Tash, was unable to travel with them because of a scheduling conflict. She was sorely missed by her teammates, who have been competing as a unit since middle school.
Back then, they put soccer and softball practice on hold to dream up mind-boggling solutions to quirky Odyssey of the Mind problems. As ninth-graders, they often stayed up late to finish homework assignments. This past year, they scrambled to find time for school clubs and driving lessons.
In April, they became the only Pinellas County team to qualify for worldwide competition when they placed first in their division at a state meet in Orlando.
The missing teammate was just the beginning of their challenges in Colorado. One of their props, a walking stick, never arrived. They tried to improvise with a tree limb, but it punctured a rubber ball that was part of their skit. Efforts to fill the ball with packing material failed, prompting an emergency trip to Target minutes before the performance.
Despite the setbacks - and the 30th-place finish - the group had a great time meeting students from all over the world, Taylor said.
"The team from Hong Kong incorporated TV sets into their costumes," he said. "We were really impressed with that. They did different things that you would never think of."
Taylor, who speaks Mandarin, met a group of students from Shanghai and was able to talk with them in their native tongue.
"Their government chooses what each kid will be when they grow up," he said. "Some will be gymnasts, some will be doctors. These kids were chosen to be in Odyssey of the Mind."
The contest, sometimes described as an "academic Olympics," grew out of the imagination of a New Jersey college professor who wanted to challenge his engineering students. It evolved into a worldwide phenomenon, attracting elementary, middle and high school students looking for an intellectual challenge that relies on creative thinking and teamwork.
Odyssey came to Florida about 20 years ago. More than 100 teams from Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties make up the second-largest region in the state. The St. Petersburg High students have risen to the top year after year.
As seventh-graders at Shorecrest Preparatory School, they won first place in their division and became one of four local teams to compete statewide at the University of Central Florida. In 2003, they again went to state competition and earned a spot in the world competition, where they placed third.
They started Odyssey of the Mind at St. Petersburg High when they entered as freshmen and won first place in their division in regional competition last year.
The seasoned team members chose the "Get the Message" problem for this year's contest. They designed costumes and props and told a story using primitive sounds, a TV news broadcast and extrasensory perception.
They met every Sunday for months to prepare for the regional event, then intensified their practice schedule for the state match. As the Colorado trip drew near, they said they felt confident they would do well.
Now, they're looking to the future.
"Thirtieth is great, but we wanted to do a little better than that," Alyson said. "We want to do it again next year and see if we can do any better."
[Last modified June 7, 2005, 02:15:48]
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