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Northwest wins top Odyssey prize in China

By Ryan Seals
Staff Writer

The Northwest High Odyssey of the Mind team thought their invitation to a world-wide 20th Anniversary Odyssey competition in China earlier this month was an act of generosity.

They were among 264 other top teams from around the world invited, but didn't expect to compete.

That was until the awards ceremony, when their interpreter turned to say the organizers had announced Northwest High won first place.

"I just turned to them and said 'Well, go on up there,'" said Rob Taylor, the team's coach.

It was the highlight of a chaotic two weeks for the team of seven Northwest Middle and High school students, who didn't think they would get to perform after two bags of props got lost on the way to Shanghai.

"We were surprised we even got judged," said Klaire Ake, an eighth grader from Northwest Middle. "It was a real honor."

Northwest was the only American team at the competition and the only international team to take home a first place prize. The team competed against 14 other groups in their category.

Odyssey of the Mind is an international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students kindergarten for college. Students use creativity to solve problems in a variety of categories ranging from building mechanical devices to creative performance.

The competition is broken down into three sections -- long-term, style and spontaneous -- graded by a panel of judges.

The long-term project the group chose was an eight-minute skit called "I'm only thinking of you!" featuring characters from "Little Red Riding Hood," "Rapunzel" and "Snow White." The comedic skit ultimately leads to the "big bad wolf" getting taken down by a SWAT team for his self-centered actions against the other characters.

The style element involves all costumes, sets and props used in the competition, which the students created on their won.

For the spontaneous element, teams are given a random object and asked to come up with a creative meaning for it and what it could be used for. In China, the team was given a picture of a house up for sale and had to provide a sales pitch.

The invitation to the event came as a result of Northwest area teams' success in state and regional competitions.

The trip cost the team $22,000, raised through corporate donations and by selling plants and scarfs.

"Basically, they had to beg for this," Taylor said. "I'm not surprised that we did so well."

The team competed again Saturday at the state-wide Odyssey competition in Raleigh and hopes to move on to the World Finals at Michigan State University in late May.

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