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Challenge? No problem, as area students head to state Mind competition

NAPLES -- Ever wonder why Friday the 13th is an unlucky day?

Well, according to some Seacrest Country Day School students, it is unlucky because bad luck made a deal with Heracles and good luck.

It's the way the students, fifth- and sixth-graders, decided to solve the problem they were given in the state's Odyssey of the Mind competition.

Odyssey of the Mind is an international educational program that asks kids in kindergarten through college to solve problems creatively. Students must work to solve problems that range from building mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics.

The Seacrest students tackled the problem, "The Lost Labor of Heracles." They had to re-enact Heracles performing one of the 12 labors, as well as a lost labor, which is a team-created 13th labor that's been forgotten in history.

"You are creating your own skit, your own costumes, your own mini-play," said Elise Erickson, a 16-year-old junior. "It's really fun."

Seacrest Country Day School, in East Naples, will send six teams to the state competition, to be held Friday and Saturday at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

In the days before the competition, the students are practicing their problems and making changes.

"We look at the things where we did not score as well as we could have at regionals," Elise said.

It is also a time to add props, junior Kate Workman said.

"We had to find a way to fix our chapel. It collapsed during regionals," she said with a laugh.

Elise, Kate and four other Seacrest Upper School students are concentrating on perfecting their problem, which involves superstition.

According to the rules, the girls have $125 to "create and present a performance that includes two documented superstitions, an original superstition created by the team and the events that caused the original superstition to come to be. The performance also include a funny narrator, a costume that is worn by two or more team members at the same time, and a stage set. During the performance, the same stage set items will be used to change from one setting to another."

The students settled on what they wanted to do.

"Our big idea was a wedding because there is lots of superstition surrounding weddings," Kate said. "Everything else was built off that."

The premise involves a bride, her mother, the groom's mother, a crazy wedding planner and a goofy sister as they prepare for the big day.

Sophomore Katie Burns, 16, said her favorite part of Odyssey of the Mind is the journey the students take to solve the problem.

"I think you learn more from an idea that doesn't work than an idea that works," she said.

The students have adult coaches, but everything from the props and costumes to the dialogue is created by them. They are not allowed to have an adult tell them about a problem or show them how to do something.

"It's really hard sometimes," coach Norann Kliewe-Ricigliano said. "You see them using materials that are not going to work, that are going to cost them money from their budget, but you have to let them try it."

Still, the process has forced the students to get creative.

For the Heracles problem, sixth-grader Emily Clark went Dumpster diving behind Home Depot.

"I found all of these blinds," she said. "I had to have someone at Home Depot sign a form that I found them with no assistance. At competition, they are tough on you."

Seacrest Country Day School isn't the only Southwest Florida school with students headed to the Odyssey of the Mind state championship.

North Naples Middle School and Pelican Marsh Elementary School also will send teams to Orlando to compete.

At the regional competition in Cape Coral, Pelican Marsh's Superstitions team took home top honors in division one and its "Teach Yer Creature" team placed fourth. North Naples Middle School's "Teach Yer Creature" was awarded second place in division two.

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