| The Daily Citizen, Dalton, GA |
'Odyssey' returning to Dalton

By Victor Alvis

Creative students from across Georgia will return to Dalton for regional Odyssey of the Mind competition in March.

Dalton will again serve as one of three regional tournament sites, with Savannah and Lilburn being the others.

The Odyssey of the Mind competition seeks to foster creative thinking and problem-solving skills among K-12 students. The students solve problems in a number of areas, from building mechanical devices to interpreting literary classics.

It's the 24th year for The Odyssey in Georgia and the 14th year Dalton has served as a regional host. It was 1994 when Dalton Middle School teacher Lisa Hackney first became a member of the state board of directors. She is currently vice president of Georgia Odyssey of the Mind and director of the regional tournament in Dalton.

"At school, we teach right answer, wrong answer.' So often, the imagination gets lost," said Hackney, who teaches social studies to gifted students at DMS. "I get real passionate about it. We have to prepare kids for a world we can only imagine."

About 70 teams have registered for the first regional tournament in Savannah on March 3. Almost 90 teams have registered for competition at DMS on March 10. More than 115 teams have registered for the final regional in Lilburn on March 24.

"When we first started, we used Dalton High School. Then the new middle school was built, so now we use that whole building," Hackney said. "We estimate each team will bring 15 people to Dalton -- five to seven team members, plus their family and friends. We'll be running 1,200 people through campus, just like a typical school day."

Teams choose from one of six competitive problems to solve. The problems appeal to a wide range of interests; some are technical in nature, others are artistic or performance-oriented.

Teams will be judged on their long-term problem solution, how well they solve a spontaneous problem on the spot, and "style" -- the elaboration of their long-term problem solution.

Smithsonian Magazine has described the Odyssey as "a dizzying four-day thinkathon that looks like some kind of kooky cross between science fair, masquerade party, performing arts fest and the Olympics."

"It's a creativity competition, and you're encouraged to be as creative and unusual as possible. But you have to know what you're talking about," said Hackney, who likened the competition to the television show "Whose Line is it Anyway?"

Before the first regional tournament each year, Georgia Odyssey of the Mind conducts judges' training, during which all facets of tournament management are reviewed. Jeanne Fessenden, director of the Georgia Odyssey of the Mind program, shares any rule changes for the current year.

"We start planning in June for the next competition year," Hackney said. "It's an ongoing process, which we're constantly revising."

Workshop sessions for spontaneous competitions, problem overview, scoring, staging, time keeping, announcer training and style judge training were provided for more than 250 judges.

From the three regional sites, judges will select the best in creative competition to represent their region on April 14 at the state finals at Columbus State University.

Top winners in all six problem solution areas and "Renatra Fuseca" winners -- the most coveted recognition of Odyssey of the Mind -- will then represent Georgia at the World Finals in May at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

"Everyone's welcome to come out; it's not just for schools. As a member of the board, I'll come and talk to anybody about starting a team," Hackney said. "The Dunwoody Homeowners Association -- a neighborhood -- has a team coming. We have teams from Campfire boys and girls, YMCAs ... you name it."

Team check-in on March 10 starts at 7 a.m. Opening ceremonies begin at 8 a.m. Teams compete all day, and an awards ceremony is set for 5:30 p.m.

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