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Brainy bunch is tops in the world

A six-student team shows impressive teamwork and creative problem solving at Odyssey of the Mind.

By KENT FISCHER

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 7, 2001


The skit featured the gods on Mount Olympus, and now a troupe of kids from Deer Park Elementary School in New Port Richey stands atop the world too.

Six Deer Park students won first place in their division at the international Odyssey of the Mind scholastic tournament in Maryland on Tuesday. The kids beat out 50 teams from as far away as Uganda and Singapore, and topped a squad from North Carolina by less than 11 points to claim the crown, 336.83 to 325.91.

"People from everywhere were coming up to us telling us how awesome the kids were," said Sue Foster, one of the team's coaches. "They couldn't have done any better."

The Deer Park team is the second from Pasco to win in its age group at the world tournament. A squad from River Ridge High School won two years ago. Coincidentally, the River Ridge team was composed of former Deer Park students who made up the elementary school's first-ever Odyssey of the Mind squad.

Deer Park principal Peggy Lewis said the kids used a cell phone to call her Tuesday night just minutes after finding out they had won the tournament.

"They were whooping and hollering," Lewis said. "Needless to say, they were very excited. It's a great accomplishment for them."

Odyssey of the Mind is a scholastic competition that has been described as a quirky cross between a science fair, a masquerade party and the Olympics. It's not a game show-style competition that rewards the quick recall of trivia. Odyssey of the Mind stresses teamwork and creative problem solving.

Each fall, the competition's organizers publish a list of problems students can tackle. This year the problems included building vehicles, writing and performing plays, and building sturdy balsa wood bridges.

Teams spend up to $125 and the better part of the school year designing, testing and refining their solutions. During tournaments, judges rate the teams' solutions on creativity, style and how well they work. Teams also compete in a spontaneous problem-solving contest.

Each spring the top teams from around the United States and dozens of other countries meet for the worldwide four-day championship. Three members of the Deer Park team competed at the world tournament in 1999.

This year, Deer Park's squad wrote an idiom-filled play about a senior prom at Mount Olympus High School, which is populated by teenage gods and goddesses.

The kids began writing the play last winter after they studied Greek mythology. They thought a high school filled with Greek gods would provide lots of opportunities for funny scenes and snappy dialogue. Poseidon, for example, is captain of the swim team. Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, is captain of the cheerleading squad.

During an interview before they left for Maryland, the kids said they didn't have their sights on a first-place finish. Landing in the top 10 would be enough, they said. Coach Foster said the kids, during the awards ceremony, figured they would place around No. 7.

Most team members went sightseeing in the D.C. area on Wednesday and couldn't be reached. Their coach, though, said the kids are sky-high.

"We are, as you could guess, very excited," she said.

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