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A legendary performance

Tampa Palms fifth-graders take first place in the Odyssey of the Mind competition with their skit based on a King Arthur legend - with a twist.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 12, 2000

TAMPA PALMS -- For 11-year-old Ian Fredotovich and the other six members of the Tampa Palms Elementary School Odyssey of the Mind team, there is more to competing than just winning.

After placing first at the state Odyssey of the Mind competition in Orlando last month, the fifth graders are heading to the world finals May 31-June 3 in Knoxville, Tenn. They will compete against about 60 other teams from throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia.

While the team members said they would love to cart home a first place trophy, they said just qualifying for the world competition is a huge thrill.

"Don't get me wrong, I like to win," said the 11-year-old Fredotovich. "But if we don't win, it's okay. We have the experience of going to the world finals."

The Odyssey of the Mind is an international competition for elementary, middle and high school students. A New Jersey professor created the creative problem-solving competition 30 years ago, which tests students' teamwork and thinking abilities.

Early in the school year, students are given peculiar scenarios or asked quirky questions. They spend several months devising creative solutions. Then they present their solutions at regional and state competitions.

First- and second-place winners in the Odyssey of the Mind's three divisions automatically advance to the international tournament.

This year marks the first time a Tampa Palms team has advanced to the world finals, said Elaine Knuckles, one of the team's coaches and a first-grade teacher at the school. The Tampa Palms team is one of two Hillsborough County schools going to the world finals. The other is Buckhorn Elementary, which also placed first in the state tournament.

"I feel like we're going to the Olympics," Knuckles said. "I'm so excited."

The Tampa Palms team is now trying to raise the $7,000 necessary to send the seven team members and three coaches to the international event at the University of Tennessee. The team has raised about $2,000 so far.

The team members are Fredotovich, Charlie Knuckles, Tony White, Max Wolford, Priya Modi, Kacy Grady and Jennie Buccino.

Since November, the students have spent dozens of hours during and after school and on the weekends rehearsing for the competition. They had to write the script for the eight-minute skit, compose the songs, make the costumes, create the props and paint the scenery themselves.

The Tampa Palms students were asked to present one of the traditional legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and then to present how the legend could have evolved had King Arthur never existed.

The students set the legend in Japan, and instead of a sword, they used a katana. They made a set from cardboard boxes and costumes from nightgowns and bathrobes. And they composed songs to the tune of the Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island.

When asked how they came up with the idea, the students say brainstorming.

"We worked together as a team instead of doing it by ourselves," Wolford said. "A lot of times, we have fun."

The competition forbids adults from assisting the students with their solutions.

"As adults we want to solve the problems for them," said fifth-grade teacher Michelle Carmen, a team coach. "But we can have no input other than asking them questions to help guide them to a solution.

"It's such a wonderful experience for the kids. The tenacity required is unbelievable."

-- Melanie Ave can be reached at (813) 226-3473 or

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