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First St. Anthony's Odyssey of the Mind team to visit world finals

by Drew Storey
Everything about the success of the Division I team, formed from third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at St. Anthony's of Padua school to compete in Odyssey of the Mind, has been a matter of diversity and learning.

At least that is how parent and team coach George Mason explains the team's success.

Last fall, coaches Mason and Dave Overbeek approached the students about the possibility of competing. A handful of kids showing interest in the program were organized into the first team from St. Anthony's to compete in Odyssey of the Mind.

Nearing the end of a successful season, and perhaps with a bit of beginner's luck, the team is now preparing a trip to Maryland at the end of the month to compete in the world finals.

"They are just so jazzed at every competition," Mason said.

The team consists of fourth-graders Anna Mason, Elizabeth Overbeek, William Hathoway and Jager Kukowski, and fifth-graders Ashley Reese and Bailey Boelens.

The long-term problem the students had to solve was to support between 4-10 golf balls with balsa wood and glue weighing no more than 18 grams. This project took them six weeks to perfect, and has been a large part of their success.

But, according to Mason, it has been the spontaneous leg of the competition where this group of kids has really shined. She said, in this section, the kids enter a room and have to complete one of three tasks. A verbal challenge will give a set of rules and ask them to respond accordingly. Mason gave the example of being given the letters c-a-r and having to name as many words as they can that begin with those letters.

The other two possibilities involve a structural problem that is solved by building something out of given materials from a non-verbal, hands-on plan. The kids have to solve the problem without speaking with each other.

"The thing is about Odyssey of the Mind, you can't tell them how to do it. It has more to do with the journey of the kids discovering themselves and how to work together," Mason said.

He said that, as a coach, it really comes down asking the kids three questions.

"They come up with everything. How do you know? Why? Is that the best way? Those are the questions we ask them," he said.

By the time they reach the third grade, Mason said, the students have been taught the scientific method. But part of the student's success is how they use it to communicate with each other.

"These kids are diverse in the way they think. They've learned to communicate with each other and drive on their individual talents and strengths," Mason said.

When it came to practicing for the advance rounds of the competition, Mason and Overbeek found a source of information in the teacher of the Zinser Odyssey of the Mind team, who made it to the world finals last year.

Last weekend, the students went door-to-door collecting pop cans to raise money for the trip to the East Coast. And a spaghetti dinner is in the works. Any contributions to the team's trip can be made through the school by calling 453-4062.

Consisting of students with individual skills of artistic vision, analytical prowess or instinct for leadership, the team has been a success because of its diversity, Mason said.

"As coaches, to watch them grow and do as well as they have has been marvelous."

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