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Students compete, create in Odyssey

Almost 400 students on 62 teams from 20 schools participated in the regional Odyssey of the Mind competition.

By RYAN DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Boys dressed as girls, pigs flew and polar bears wandered the gym Saturday at River Ridge middle and high schools.

It was all in the name of the creative problem-solving Olympics: Odyssey of the Mind.

Where the looming FCATs often ask students to think within a fill-in bubble, Odyssey begs for the odd.

"You can't just memorize math problems," said Robert Carr, a seventh-grade student at Seven Springs Middle School.

His seven-person team transformed the school gymnasium into Antarctica and performed a skit with a polar bear and a seal -- made up of fabric on the outside and a mini-computer on wheels inside -- that were programmed to dance and pick up food.

The seven kids, their seal and their bear comprised one of 62 teams to compete in the Gulf Coast Region of Odyssey on Saturday. Nearly 400 students came from 16 Pasco County and four Pinellas County schools, regional director Freda Abercrombie said. Each team is made up of five to seven kids, ranging from kindergarteners to high school seniors.

As many as 30 of the teams could advance to the state competition next month, she said.

Every team was given a problem to solve and about three months to develop a skit around that problem.

They are scored on solving one of five long-term problems, the style of their performance and a separate performance where they solve a spontaneous problem, such as developing a story about a strange object placed in front of them.

One Cotee Elementary School team competed in the traditional Odyssey category of building an eight-ounce balsa wood structure that could support hundreds of pounds as a team-made vehicle rammed into its side.

As they added weight to their structure, they performed their skit, which included flying pigs and popping bubble gum bubbles, against a courtroom backdrop.

"We're really loudmouths," fifth-grader Alicia Roddenberg said, "and we wanted to be lawyers."

Last year, five best friends from River Ridge High School finished first in the international Odyssey of the Mind tournament in Tennessee. This year, those girls landed parts in the school play, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, instead.

As soon as their eight-minute skit ended, Carr knew his group had fallen short of following in the footsteps of last year's team. Their polar bear wouldn't walk straight.

"We had three months," he said, "and we needed one more week."

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