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New Hanover team wins regional Odyssey of the Mind competition

By Brandon Sneed
A team of local fourth- and fifth-grade students from the Gregory School of Science, Mathematics and Technology, won the Odyssey of the Mind tournament on March 6 at North Carolina Wesleyan College near Rocky Mount.

"It was great showing what work we did, then winning," said team member Taylor Perkins.

The tournament was actually the apex of a six-month-long project. In October, students signed up for the competition, selecting one of five problems for which they were to find an engaging solution. "The problems are very open-ended," said Susan Creasy, who coordinated the Odyssey of the Mind teams at Gregory. "That way they can come up with a solution to the problem is a really creative way."

The big catch: adults aren't allowed to help at all. "Anything that resulted wasn't because coaches coached them to greatness," said parent volunteer coach Polly Tait. "They completely generated everything on their own."

Coaches oversaw some of the work and helped them organize their ideas, but the ideas came from the children. The team's two coaches were Tait and Nancy Bell. Members of the team were fourth-graders Mac Bell, Matthew Bowerman, Jack Cruz and Dawson Williams; and fifth-graders Grantland Adams, Donyell Lewis and Perkins.

The more creative children got, the higher they scored. What they came up with they then performed in an eight-minute skit at the competition, which included schools from 35 eastern North Carolina counties.

The team's topic was "Nature Trail'R." Its task was to create a camper for a camping trip in a wooded wilderness, which they also had to conjure up. On the trail the vehicle had to overcome an obstacle, clean up the environment, deal with unsavory wildlife, break down and be repaired.

Over about 12 weeks, the kids developed a triangular camper that was pulled behind a go-kart powered by two team members who dressed like an engine, who toted the camper through an underwater forest in which they came upon trash, stubborn but gullible old men, and snakes that nearly wrecked their engine.

Myriad restrictions applied, but the kids created within them, and apparently to the liking of the judges.

They pulled their camper on a slab of wood to which they'd attached wheels. The engine boys made engine noise. Their obstacle: an old man camped in the middle of the trail. They lured him away with his favorite food: chocolate. Along the way, they picked up trash left by previous campers (one of which was probably the rude old man.) Then snakes swarmed into the engines and, to all their woe, caused the thing to break down. But they successfully removed all snakes, made all repairs, then went on their way.

All the while, MacDonald the Tap-Dancing Crocodile (a.k.a. Mac Bell) narrated the adventure. They'll next perform at the state tournament at Wingate College on April 10.


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