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Odyssey to bring thousands

An upswing in the local economy is predicted next weekend when the Williamsport Area High School hosts the annual state competition of the Odyssey of the Mind program.

In addition to the 3,000 to 4,000 people expected to attend as coaches, students, family and volunteers, a number of OotM alumni from the multi-county Northcentral Region also may attend, according to Jerry Walls, volunteer planner on the state tournament committee.

"The excitement generated by this vision has evoked wide-ranging cooperation from local businesses and institutions," Walls said. "(The committee) foresees valuable future spin-off benefits in raising community awareness of this competition."

So far, the event has sold out rooms in at least two downtown hotels.

Marc Schefsky, manager of the Genetti Hotel, said he is booked for Friday night. The 110 rooms at the Hampton Inn are booked for the weekend as well, according to manager Jamie Sortman.

Jason Fink, executive vice president of the Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce, said his company has been working closely with the OotM state planning committee for several months in hopes of raising awareness to local businesses.

"We've been trying to make sure folks are aware that this is coming and it's going to be important," Fink said. "We've contacted businesses and sent forms out, and put something out in our newsletter at the beginning of the year for any type of incentives businesses want to offer.

"This is a mini-vacation for kids, and as reward for their hard work at the local and regional levels, there's going to be this sense of treating themselves to the local flavor," Fink added.

While restaurants and hotels are obvious hotspots for visitors, Fink said he expects venues like movie theaters, youth-oriented establishments and bowling alleys to hopefully see some increase in patronage over the weekend.

Walls said the planning committee has been cooperating with businesses such as Lamar Advertising and institutions like the YMCA and Pennsylvania College of Technology.

The YMCA is providing free use of its pool and arena, while other businesses, like restaurants, are offering discount coupons.

"We have 23 Pennsylvania College of Technology students from various clubs who will be helping with merchandizing, door judging and score running," said Henriette Evans, faculty member and member of the organizing committee at the college.

The competition, traditionally held in Altoona, relocated to Williamsport this year in an effort to find a more affordable venue, as the fees at the Altoona School District had been raised substantially, according to Walls.

"For a number of years the local leaders of Odyssey of the Mind had been urging a change of venue," Walls said.

The Williamsport Area School District, Fink of the Chamber of Commerce, the County Commissioners and City Council members Pat Marty and Geralyn Fausnaught were quickly supportive, Walls added.

As retired executive director of the Lycoming County Planning Commission, Walls said he helped the Chamber of Commerce recruit new companies to the area, who often asked about the quality of the schools.

"We were able to cite the long-standing success of our Odyssey of the Mind Teams as a concrete example of quality," Walls said. "Very often those companies knew about (the program), and were pleased that our community could offer that quality."

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