| Americus Times Recorder |
Odyssey of the Mind tournament spurs creative solutions

About 600 students competed Saturday in Odyssey of the Mind.
Marquita Brown

Cheers and chatter rumbled like thunder through Hawkins Gym at Franklin County High School.

Hundreds of children sat in groups across the gym floor, many of them clapping and cheering to those sitting in the stands.

"We've got spirit, yes we do. We've got spirit, how about you?"

It was almost 4 p.m., and the students were about to learn who won their respective divisions of the regional Odyssey of the Mind tournament. Though the competition began at 9 a.m., many were up long before, readying for the day.

"I know that many of you have been going since six o'clock," said Brenda Hopkins, co-director of the regional OotM competition. "How can you have this energy?"

About 600 students and coaches competed in the 16th Annual Piedmont Regional Odyssey of the Mind Competition, held Saturday at Franklin County High School. Those who placed first Saturday will advance to the state competition, held April 5 in Sterling. Winners from the state competition will advance to the world finals, which will begin in May at the University of Maryland.

Odyssey of the Mind is a team competition where students work together to solve long-term and spontaneous problems. This year's long-term problems involve building and operating a vehicle or mechanical device; building a balsa wood structure; or presenting an original performance about dinosaurs, Greek mythology or eccentric characters.

Regardless of the problem, creativity is essential.

"What you consider a good response is average in this program," Hopkins said. "That's a sign of the creativity and the problem-solving spirit of OotM."

Take James Madison Middle School in Roanoke, for instance. The audience began buzzing about the team long before they began their performance.

"Their props are sensational," Suzan Merten gushed, though she was there to support her two children on a team from Crystal Spring Elementary School in Roanoke. "Look at all that."

Leaning against a wall of the gymnasium were open pieces of cardboard, one painted bright pink and decorated like a girl's bedroom.

"Oh, my gosh, how cute is that," said Elizabeth Jamison as she watched the children perform a skit.

Roanoke Valley schools have frequently competed at the international level of OotM and of Destination Imagination, a similar problem-solving competition, and have scored well.

In 2006, teams from Franklin County High and Crystal Spring Elementary schools competed at the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals in Ames, Iowa. Teams from Franklin County High, Crystal Spring Elementary, William Ruffner Middle and Patrick Henry High schools all competed at the world finals last year.

Still, you can never tell what's going to happen from year to year, Hopkins said.

Those words rang true Saturday for a team from Forest Middle School in Bedford County. Peter Worford gave his team members high-fives after they finished a round in the balsa wood structure competition.

The team competed in the balsa wood problem for the first time last year, Worford said. This year, they won their division.

"It's such tedious work," he said about building the structure. The children on his team spent about 20 hours cumulatively building the structure. It held 231 pounds. The hard work was worth it, he said.

"It's down to this moment right now," he said.

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