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Creativity reigns at Odyssey of the Mind

Sunday, March 09, 2008 By Matt Vande BunteThe Grand Rapids Press

ADA TOWNSHIP -- About an hour before show time, a group from Caledonia's Duncan Lake Middle School panicked at the news that one teammate had chicken pox. Forced to improvise, they quickly patched their script.

Then, after performing in front of videotaping parents and judges wearing olive leaf crowns, the students gushed into the hallway.

"I loved it! It was so much fun," said Lindsey Montgomery, 13, who played Cinderella in a skit about fairy tales that the team had rehearsed since November.

The display was anything but textbook. But then, nothing about Odyssey of the Mind ever goes quite according to plan.

"I told them 'This is true spontaneity. You just gotta pull together.' And they did," coach Mary Morley said. "All that matters is they feel good about it."

Adrenaline flowed through Forest Hills Central High School as 65 teams competed Saturday in the area's first OotM regional tournament of the year. Other local teams perform March 15 at Grandville High School and Greenville Middle School.

The top teams in each category qualify for the state finals April 19 at East Kentwood High School.

Twenty teams from Forest Hills advanced Saturday, as did eight teams from Rockford.

OotM is an international contest inviting seven-student teams to pool their creativity in building vehicles, making balsa wood structures and performing skits that meet specific, yet open-ended, criteria.

The hallways at Forest Hills were jammed with plywood props and cardboard creations accented by pop cans and PVC pipe, and children dressed in duct tape and coated with plastic plates.

A high school squad from Forest Hills Central made costumes out of candy wrappers and paint swatches for a skit about a packrat who went on a diet and munched on the wires.

"We use as much free and recycled stuff as we can," said Drew Hawkins, 17.

The "mutt team" of teenagers included remnants of elementary and middle school OotM squads from years past.

They keep coming back to build their performance and problem-solving skills, and because the process is a thrill.

"Today was one of the better runs we had," said Mackenzie Gire, 17. "It was kind of iffy three weeks ago."

Things worked great in practice for a team from Rockford's Valley View Elementary School that tried to explain how dinosaurs went extinct. Only its homemade volcano didn't erupt Saturday.

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