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Odyssey competition depends on teamwork, creativity

By George Basler * Staff Writer * March 6, 2009
DICKINSON -- After months of practice and preparation, teams from across central New York will descend on Broome County today to solve problems in the most creative way possible.

The 130 teams from 50 schools will participate in the New York Region 12 Odyssey of the Mind competition, which is marking its 25th anniversary this year.

The competition requires teams of five to seven students each to use creativity and teamwork to solve problems that range from building mechanical devices to presenting their own humorous spin on literary classics. Wacky costumes, colorful sets and outlandish skits are the order of the day.

"It's a wondering teaching tool" that focuses on creativity, teamwork and "really thinking outside the box," said Lisa Weston-Bialy, a parent who is coaching two teams from Glenwood Elementary School in the Vestal Central School District.

The regional competition has grown from a handful of teams the first year to the largest of the 16 regional competitions in the state last year, said Lynette Bryan, regional director.

The number of teams is down slightly from last year's 139 entrants, a drop that Bryan linked to the number of high school teams that graduated. Still, an estimated 4,000 people will be at the Broome-Tioga Board of Cooperative Educational Services today to compete or watch. The 50 participating schools are one more than last year, Bryan said.

"I'm thrilled it's lasted so long," said Laurence Feltham, a retired Binghamton City School District teacher who was one of the organizers of the first competition 25 years ago. He's still involved and will be a judge this year.

Feltham thinks the competition has remained popular because students, from youngsters to teenagers, genuinely enjoy doing it.

The top teams from the regional competition will move on to the state competition at Binghamton University on April 4. Winners there advance to the World Finals at Iowa State University May 27-30.

Corinne Farrell has been coaching for eight years and calls it a wonderful opportunity, even though things can get rather hectic as the competition approaches. This year, she's coaching two teams from St. James Middle School in Johnson City. Some members have been fighting illness, but the students always seem to rise to the occasion, she said.

"The whole process of creative thinking might be something we don't get enough of," she said.

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