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Students' imaginations run wild at Odyssey competition
Event at BU draws 4,000 for state finals

By George Basler
Press & Sun-Bulletin

VESTAL -- Mkayla Pierre had to cope with a last-minute crisis to compete Saturday in the state finals of the Odyssey of the Mind. She broke her foot about a week ago doing a cartwheel.

But that didn't stop the 11-year-old fifth-grader. "My mom was panicking, but I said 'I'll find a way,'" Pierre said. She came up with the solution of performing in a wheelchair along with her six teammates from Pakanasink Elementary School in the Pine Bush Central School District.

Coming up with creative solutions was the order of the day as 4,000 competitors, coaches and spectators from across the state descended on Binghamton University for the event that encourages students to let their imaginations roam way outside the box.

Teams of up to seven students each competed in one of three divisions: elementary school, middle school and high school. They had to solve one of five long-term problems and show quick thinking in a "spontaneous" round. The wackier the costumes, and the more outlandish the skits, the better.

In other words, "when you're crazy, it's a good way to fit in," said Mary Gleason, 17, a senior at Auburn High School.

The 221 teams -- including 20 from Broome, Chenango, Delaware and Otsego counties -- won regional competitions earlier this month. They vied for slots in Odyssey's World Finals May 31 to June 3 at the University of Maryland.

Pierre wasn't the only competitor who had to cope with a last-minute snag. A team from West Middle School in Binghamton had to create new backdrops after their original backdrops were lost following the regional competition earlier this month.

Sarah Briscoe, 13, had to contend with a costume made out of crushed soda cans, duct tape and recycled trash. And she had to walk around in shoes made out of shoe boxes. If you think that's easy, think again, said the eighth-grader from O'Rourke Middle School in Burnt Hills.

Mitchell Hillegas, 15, a ninth-grader at Chenango Valley High School, played "a nerd." He didn't mind. It's a chance to be creative and have fun, he said.

Jamie Pastrick, 12, painted her face blue to play a character in her team's skit. The character came from the "Cry-o-Sphere," which is "why I'm always blue," explained the seventh-grader at Maine-Endwell Middle School.

Pastrick also wore a team sweat shirt with the slogan: "Thinking inside the box is socially unacceptable." It summed up the day.

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