| The Reporter |
An intellectual group
Team hopes to win in Iowa

By Ryan Chalk
Located smack-dab in the middle of Iowa, the city of Ames is likely not listed in travel brochures as a vacation hot spot, but that's exactly where six Vacaville third-graders and their families are eager to visit next month.

The University of Iowa, in Ames, will play host to the 2009 Odyssey of the Mind World Finals, May 27 to 30. Six Cooper Elementary School third-graders earned the chance to compete there after winning a regional tournament in February and the state competition earlier this month.

The team consists of Caleb Barnes, Joel Lindsey, Zachary Kellis, Justin Moore, Paris Wickliff and Nick Smith. Parent, Tamara Barnes, acts as a coach to the team.

The Odyssey of the Mind is an intellectual competition that involves creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college. Kids apply their creativity to solve problems that range from building mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics.

Each team, consisting of up to seven students, chooses one of five competitive problems to solve. The problems appeal to a wide range of interests: Some are technical in nature, while others are artistic or performance-oriented.

Calling themselves "The Smokebusters," the local team designed a remote-controlled vehicle which travels through environments they created to simulate the human body.

Creating a performance in which they help a fictional character named "Bob" kick his smoking habit, each member sang a part addressing the negative impacts of smoking on the human body and explained how their vehicle traveled through the body cleaning the mouth, lungs and blood vessels.

"Nicotine, which is really bad, builds up in your blood vessels. Then the tar goes down your throat and into your lungs and covers them up," said Smith.

Smith added that smoking makes it harder to breathe and leads to cancer, but if you quit you can save yourself.

"Smoking can make you lose your mind, basically," Smith said.

Leading up to the state competition, Tamara Barnes' living room became the center of activity twice a week for not only the Smokebusters but also for a team of five fifth-graders and two third-graders, "The Super Cooperstitions," who placed third at the regional level. Cooper also fielded a primary (K-2) team at the regional tournament, but that division is noncompetitive.

"To sum it up, this is a first-year team and most of them had probably never heard of Odyssey of the Mind until last October, and they competed against kids two to three years older than them," said Barnes.

"Cooper came out of nowhere. They were the underdogs," she added.

Not only did "The Smokebusters" learn about the dangers of smoking, they learned about how to work as a group.

"If we would have yelled at each other, we would have placed terribly," said Moore.

Caleb Barnes added, "If it's a one-man team, you won't get any good ideas. You'll just get normal ideas that won't get you any points."

Vacaville Unified School District's GATE program has taken care of the costs for the district's teams up through the state competition, according to Jo Anne Bucsko, district coordinator for GATE. Getting to Iowa and the world competition will be the responsibility of the parents.

Therefore "The Smokebusters" are looking for any financial help from the community and will plan to hold a series of small fund-raisers.

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