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Creative thinkers conquer
Odyssey of the Mind competition encourages students to be inventive.

By Sarah Jimenez / The Fresno Bee

For months, 10-year-old Atlanta Lanting has practiced playing the role of a deceitful, selfish pirate captain.

On Saturday, she and her fellow pirates -- classmates at Sequoia Union Elementary School in Lemon Cove -- put their work on display in the state Odyssey of the Mind tournament, a competition that combines cunning with creativity.

Their assignment was to create a skit with a self-centered character who deceives others. The trick was to make sure the character would say the event title -- "I'm Only Thinking of You!" -- three times.

Wearing white blouses, bandannas on their heads and sashes on their waists, the team gave it their best shot as they faced off against 15 other teams in their age division in front of judges at Mt. Whitney High School in Visalia.

"I think it's just helped them tap into levels of creativity and imagination they didn't know they had," said Laura Workman, a parent who volunteered to be the Sequoia Union coach. Workman said it's been exciting to see the team -- five fifth-graders and a fourth-grader -- build confidence.

Saturday's state tournament attracted 170 teams that advanced from regional competitions. Top teams will go on to the Odyssey of the Mind world finals scheduled for May 23-26 in Michigan.

Results were not available late Saturday.

Started in 1978 by a New Jersey professor, Odyssey of the Mind competitions challenge students to work in teams and solve problems in creative ways. Problem scenarios range from building devices to interpreting literary classics.

Depending on the problem, team interpretations can vary from technical to artistic, said Mark Lopes, state coordinator.

Lopes of Hanford became involved with Odyssey of the Mind after his two children, now in college, competed in high school.

The Valley had 15 teams at Saturday's event: five from Visalia, three from Delano, two each from Lemon Cove and Kerman, and teams from Fresno, Hanford and Porterville.

A sixth-grade team from Gibson Elementary School in Fresno showed judges they could go "Around the World in Eight Minutes," the title of another tournament event.

In the skit, Robert Wynne, 12, played a researcher in the Sahara Desert.

His compass was stolen by gypsies, and a search for the device took him to the polar ice caps, and then to Wiz'ocoon Island, a make-believe place.

Team coach and parent Mary Eisley said most of the team members have been together four years.

"It's a tremendous thing," she said. "They've never gotten this far."

Emma Ramirez, 11, said she has enjoyed making skit props and working with her team since October.

"I think we did pretty good," she said.

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