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Odyssey of the Mind inspires children's drama

By Sam Kennedy Of The Morning Call

Students of St. Thomas More in Salisbury apply science to a skit.

A boy gets sucked into a video game that takes him to one of the Earth's poles, the Amazon jungle and an island where Elvis Presley is found alive and well.

It happened Saturday at Southern Lehigh High School, in a skit that a team of third- and fourth-graders from St. Thomas More School of Salisbury Township put on for the regional Odyssey of the Mind competition.

"All our hard work paid off," Lauren Drabenstott, 9, said after the performance ended with a loud applause from the audience.

Odyssey of the Mind, open to students from kindergarten through 12th grade, emphasizes teamwork, creativity and the application of knowledge and talent. Participants spend months working together to solve problems that range from the theatrical to the technical.

One problem Saturday involved building a balsa wood structure that could balance and support weights.

The problem the St. Thomas Moore team took on required them to create and perform a play about a world traveler. They had to do everything, from writing the script to making the props and costumes, without the help of adults.

"It's a whole different type of sport," said Diane Albright, whose daughter Laura was a member of the St. Thomas Moore team. "The kids love it."

Odyssey of the Mind was created in New Jersey in 1978 as an alternative to the traditional science fair, which emphasizes individual achievement. Today, participating teams come from throughout the United States and about two dozen other countries, according to the competition's Web site.

Saturday's regional competition involved 110 teams from six counties, and was run by a small army of volunteers, including 220 judges, 110 coaches and 14 board members. They were among 2,500 people who braved snow-choked roads to reach Southern Lehigh High School.

The all-day event was delayed for two hours because of the weather, but canceling was hardly an option, said Odyssey regional director Kathy Young, a nurse who lives in Macungie. "The kids have worked six months on these projects," she explained.

Young's assistant is tournament director Victor Pituch of Allentown, a buyer for Air Products and Chemicals. Young and Pituch became involved in Odyssey in the early 1980s, when their daughters, who are now through with college, were in elementary school.

Pituch said he remains involved because Odyssey teaches children "life skills you could apply in marriage, in all walks of life."

Winners in each of the six categories of the regional competition will advance to the state finals on April 14 in Altoona, where in May they will vie for a spot in the world finals in Lansing, Mich.

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