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Local Odyssey Of Mind Teams Are World Class

The Tampa Tribune

NEW PORT RICHEY - James Donlon found an unlikely source of inspiration when he needed to hone his portrayal of Louis Pasteur for an Odyssey of the Mind competition.

James, 11, a Marlowe Elementary fifth-grader, originally used his normal voice for his take on Pasteur, and he figured that was just wrong.

Pasteur hailed from France. James wanted to give the famed microbiologist the appropriate French accent and he found just the right model one day while watching the Will Ferrell comedy "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby."

The movie about race cars features a French driver played by Sacha Baron Cohen. James modeled his Pasteur accent after the character.

This apparently paid off. The Marlowe team finished first in its category at the state Odyssey of the Mind competition held April 5. That qualified the group to head to the world competition, scheduled from May 31 to June 3 at the University of Maryland.

Four other teams from Pasco County also are heading to the world competition. They are Sand Pine Elementary, coached by Amy Belise; Wiregrass Ranch High School, Team A., coached by Jason Nardi and Bryce Jardine; River Ridge High School, coached by Marcine Fiorillo; and River Ridge Middle School, Team B, coached by Rita Vanderhoof and Helen Wirenga.

In Odyssey of the Mind, teams of five to seven students dream up creative solutions to a long-term problem and a spontaneous problem.

The students begin working on the long-term problem in the fall. They are given a scenario that sets some specific rules, but leaves room for imagination and a variety of results.

Depending on the problem, the students build props or a structure, and in some cases design costumes. Limits are placed on how much money they can spend.

At the competition, though, the teams also confront a spontaneous problem they must solve without planning.

Last week, the Marlowe team members met after school to practice their long-term problem and to hone their spontaneous skills.

The Marlowe team is a dedicated group, said teacher Tisha Newton, who coaches the team. It's not unusual for the students to arrive at school early and stay late to work with her.

"They are living, eating and breathing this," Newton said. "Obviously, it paid off for them."

Finding Inspiration

In addition to James Donlon, other members of the Marlowe team are fifth-graders Ryan Gibson, 11, Joshua Rodriguez, 10, and Haleigh Vandenkooy, 11; and fourth-graders Nyah Joseph, 10, Rebecca McCormick, 10, and Madyson Turner, 10.

The long-term problem the Marlowe team worked on was called "Classics: The Wonderful Muses."

Under the rules outlined by Odyssey of the Mind, the students were to present an original performance that includes one of the nine Greek Muses. The Muse had to inspire two people - a historical person and a character created for the skit.

The time limit on the skit was eight minutes.

James said he had worked on a project about Louis Pasteur, so that's how the team came to use the scientist as their historical figure.

Haleigh plays Erato, the Muse of lyric poetry. The role gives Haleigh a chance to use her singing talents.

She said she was a bit nervous when it came time to perform at the state competition.

"We were all breathing deeply," Haleigh said. "We all wanted to do our best because at region we got second."

Making It Better

The students bettered their regional performance and hope to improve even more by the time they head to the University of Maryland. They held a brainstorming session after the rehearsal to discuss what they can do better.

Nyah suggested their backdrop could use a paint touch-up. Ryan said a cow that is one of their props could use a touch-up, too. Madyson said the hat she wears wobbles and Haleigh suggested it might stay in place better if Madyson wore it lower on her forehead. Rebecca said white makeup might give Haleigh a better Muse look.

Haleigh, perhaps visited by a Muse herself, had an inspiration. She said it would be cool if she wore a little umbrella hat with spinning musical notes hanging from it.

Joshua, charged with making sure the team stays within the $125 spending limit outlined in the Odyssey of the Mind rules, looked stricken.

"We're getting out of budget here," he said. "Inside the budget. You're scaring me."

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