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Youth creativity shines at competition

By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Monday, April 07, 2008

Saturday's pouring rain did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of more than 930 students participating in the North Carolina Odyssey of The Mind state tournament at East Carolina University.

ECU Student Transit buses shuttled competitors, 275 volunteer coaches, 250 judges, and officials and a very large contingent of parents, teachers and supporters among the several buildings on the 10th Street side of the campus and the Murphy Center at Minges Coliseum.

Spread throughout the various venues, students revealed their creative solutions to problems posed long before their arrival.

At the Mendenhall Student Center, the Morehead (City) Elementary School team performed a skit they designed to demonstrate a vehicle they created for a mock medieval battle.

"We spent about two months working on it," team member Noah Harrell said. "It was fun and challenging, but more fun. I learned that teamwork is best for this type of competition.".

Teammate Duncan Ross took the time to meet and speak with competitors from other teams.

"I liked one team's vehicle," he said. "We talked about their idea and I told them I thought it would work really well."

Ross's parents, Kay and Philip, made the trip from Morehead City to offer support and encouragement to the team.

"The hardest part for us as parents is keeping our hands off and our mouths closed about the project," Philip Ross said. "The judges are very strict about that."

He was most impressed and pleased by the values of teamwork -- a word used throughout the competition -- that his son learned with his classmates.

The same could be said of the adults who organize the events and plan the competitions that lead to the eventual world championships later in the year, Betsy Adams, the state tournament's co-director, said.

"Everyone here is a volunteer," she said. "The teachers, parents and school administrators here today all liked what they saw their children doing and decided to support their efforts."

Steve Way, from Winston-Salem, was the head judge for the competition. His judges looked for specific required goals that the students had to meet, but they also listened to what the students chose as their personal style tasks -- those were judged as well -- based on aspects of creativity, Way said.

"This teaches young people how to think outside the box," Way said. "Later on in life they will come up with new ideas for us all. While they have fun, they get a chance to express themselves and become more confident individuals."

In another competition venue at Mendenhall, a team from Concord's Cabarrus Rotary Club described their project to the judges. Afterward, they talked about the complete experience.

"When we first started, we were just friends, but when we learned how to work as a team we were able to get things done together and make things happen much better," said Concord's Addison White, 13.

The team won its Division II competition for their project in the category of "The Wonderful Muses," named for the problem that requires them to choose one of the seven Greek muses and accomplish a great achievement.

They now move on to the world competition at the University of Maryland in College Park, a thrilling prospect for White's mother, Darcy.

"The kids worked very hard to get to this point. The world competition will be quite an experience for the kids. They'll meet kids from 80 countries and other parts of the U.S., but the goal will just be for them to have fun," White said.

The tournament was big business for Greenville, however. It was expected to pump about $1 million into the local enconomy -- mostly from food and lodging. The group from Concord -- 14 in all -- celebrated their win with pizza from Papa Johns. They'd had cheesesteak sandwiches from Cubbie's on Evans Street the night before; another group of 17 went to the Olive Garden on Greenville Boulevard, while others visited Ham's Restaurant on Greenville Boulevard.

As director of the tournament, Adams praised ECU for hosting the event.

Being able to spread out on the campus and have plenty of room to move about was a big plus, she said, and the ECU staff made her volunteers feel very comfortable and welcome.

"I can't say enough about the way Chancellor Steve Ballard and everyone at ECU have opened their doors to our group," she said. "It's all gone really well for us."

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