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It's okay not to finish first

By George Basler * Staff Writer * March 6, 2009
'It's the odyssey, not the destination.'

CENTRAL VALLEY - Ask the students at the Monroe-Woodbury Middle School how they feel about not winning first place in their respective Odyssey of the Mind competitions, and they will readily admit to not feeling good about it.

Who wouldn't? After all, they spent months of time preparing, giving up time with their friends and family. They missed social and family activities and spent many late nights and weekends at the school practicing.

The middle school's teams won second, third and fifth place honors and thus they won't be advancing to the state competition in upstate Binghamton in the beginning of April.

Yet students said, without hesitation, they would quickly and happily participate again. They cited what they learned about themselves and working with others as being the important reasons why.

"You get job skills and skills you need to work with other people," said Anthony Jorge, a member of the team which placed third for its response to "Problem 5: Superstition."

"It's unlike anything," said his team member Mary Hood. "It's not an 'everybody' thing. You learn about yourself."

Others cited the bonds of friendship formed as reason enough.

"It's friendship, it's team building," said Jennifer Rutishauser, a member of the "Problem 2: Teach Yer Creature" team. "You become such good friends. "

Katie Luo, a member of the team focusing on the "Problem 1: Earth Trek," added those bonds helped when they learned first place victory was not theirs.

"You feel sad (that you didn't win), but you're happy," she said. "Even though you didn't win, you've done all the hard work. The good friendships help."

Coach Mike Dudzik saw firsthand how hard the students worked. Like other team coaches, he watched them spend countless hours over the past months preparing for an eight minute presentation plus a three minute response to a spontaneous question.

"The kids in sports might be spending as much time but they're not using their brains as much," he said. "That's the impressive thing (about the middle school OotM students). At the end of the day, their brains are shot."

With adult-like wisdom, they also noted they were successful despite their losses.

"I'm actually a winner," said Julianne Humphrey, a member of the "Problem 1: Earth Trek " team. "I win because I have all these friends and all these memories. And there's always next year. You just have to try harder."

That keeps coaches like Dudzik happy.

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