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Local 'Odyssey' team is state champs; next challenge: Raising funds to attend worldwide contest in Maryland

By Shawn P. Sullivan
Sanford News Editor

SANFORD -- They've conquered Maine. Now they have their sights set on the world.

The Sanford Junior High School's "Odyssey of the Mind" team traveled to Cony High School in Augusta and won the state championship in the Division II Road Rally on Sunday, April 6. Now the whiz kids are off to the University of Maryland at the end of May to take their talents to the worldwide "Odyssey of the Mind" competition -- provided they can raise the $5,000 to get there.

The team's comprised of Sanford youths Patricia and Victoria Leonard, ages 13 and 12, respectively, and Nathan Faessler and Nicole Klassig, both 14. The coaches for the team are Patricia's and Victoria's parents, Nicole and William Leonard.

"Odyssey of the Mind" is an annual, worldwide competition in which students at several levels are charged with meeting challenges in creative, time-efficient, cost-effective ways. According to Nicole Leonard, the junior high team's victory a couple of weekends ago makes the first time the Sanford School System has brought home an "Odyssey of the Mind" state championship.

The four students signed up to compete last fall and started meeting in October. In the months that followed, they worked on taking on a challenge that called for them to create a vehicle no bigger than five feet by feet five that could run on no more than a Nicad battery. At the competition, the vehicle would need to be able to travel from Point A to Point B -- roughly 24 feet -- and perform a few "launching" tasks at each location.

Also, the students needed to tie into their performance a narrative with characters. Patricia, Victoria, Nathan and Nicole created a time-travel story cast with characters based on current events, movies they'd seen and books they'd read.

If it sounds a bit complicated, it's supposed to be. "Odyssey of the Mind" puts to the test students' abilities to be creative, use tools, think outside the box, come up with new ideas, spend wisely and rely on each other as a team.

At the competition on April 6, Patricia, Victoria, Nathan and Nicole needed to put their vehicle through a relay in a tight time frame.

At Point A, they had to launch a soccer ball from their vehicle with enough strength to cross the room.

Then one of the students needed to power their vehicle to Point B, where the team had to launch a pingpong ball with enough force to hit a mural on the wall eight feet away and have the ball bounce back and hit their car.

The student then had to drive the vehicle 24 feet back to Point A, where the team had to launch a tennis ball into a container across the room.

Then they had to drive back to Point B for the finish.

Once they completed that back-and-forth-and-back-again challenge, they needed to solve another intricate problem in 10 minutes. The judges evaluated their collective thought process and team work.

What did this intricate problem entail? No telling. According to Nicole Leonard, the students are not allowed to say a peep about their challenge to anyone to prevent word getting out to other competitors in other states.

Such a rule demonstrates the essence of "Odyssey of the Mind." The challenges and responsibilities are solely in the students' hands. Parents and coaches can monitor and supervise, but the students have to ask them for supplies and advice; the adults cannot offer them. And, when the students ask for guidance, coaches can only provide a handful of options; the students must sort through the alternatives and pick the best one.

With Augusta's victory behind them and the competition in Maryland ahead, the team's next challenge is raising funds to make it to the worldwide event, which will run May 31 through June 4.

Nicole Leonard said on Wednesday morning that the team has so far raised $1,700 of the $5,000. The $5,000 covers all aspects of the trip -- the registration fee, which accounts for half of the total, and various travel expenses.

The team has until Wednesday, April 30, to come up with the cash.

If anyone would like to donate to the cause, Leonard asks them to please make out a check payable to "Sanford School Department OOTM" and send it to her address at 4 Russell Drive in Springvale, ME 04083.

All donations are tax deductible. If not enough money is raised, Leonard said all donations will be rolled into the account for next year's "Odyssey of the Mind" competition.

"At the competition there will be students from Japan, China and France -- everywhere," she said. "It's a wonderful opportunity for our students to share their thoughts and ideas and their culture and learn about others."

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