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A growing 'Odyssey'

Three teams from the Southeast Polk Community School District have qualified for the Odyssey of the Mind world finals at Michigan State University in May.

Last year, parents Charlie and Lynn Winans and faculty sponsor Alison Richardson introduced Southeast Polk Junior High students to Odyssey of the Mind, which has age groups from elementary school to college. Their problem was to build a balsa wood tower that weighed no more than 18 grams and could support hundreds of pounds of weight.

That team also made the world finals, but their destination was Ames, not East Lansing, Mich. Charlie Winans said students from around 45 states and 25 countries would join them at Iowa State University for the May 2009 event.

Zach Bennett, Eric Cole, Grace Hart, Spencer Kirby, Katie Smithart and Michael Winans moved on to Southeast Polk High School as freshmen this year and are part of a team in the category "Nature Trail'R," with the same parent coaches and one new addition, Tyler Kirby. He is Spencer's twin brother.

According to a summary at www.odysseyofthemind.com, the problem "requires teams to design, build and drive a human-powered vehicle and camper that will go on a camping trip."

"Our problem was to create a vehicle and trailer that could go around the so-called 'Nature Trail'R,' and it had to endure four obstacles," Smithart said. "The way we had it set up, we had a background and our scene, and we just had to move it throughout our area."

Spencer Kirby and Michael Winans navigate the course in two giant hamster wheels made from recycled pallets.

"Basically, we wanted to build something, and we didn't want to make it out of balsa wood," said Kirby, referring to the balsa wood tower trials from 2009.

Keegan McReynolds was the lone team member to remain at the junior high from the 2009 state championship team, but a crew of four more eighth-graders joined him for "Return to the Gift of Flight," where teams "make and operate a series of aircraft that will complete a variety of flight plans. The flight plans include flying straight, making a target spin, traveling slowly, dropping something into a target, touching down and taking off, and a mass launch of multiple aircraft."

McReynolds, Lucas Nye, Jordan Skarin, Michael Smith and Ryan Zimmer are under the direction of coaches Lynn Winans and Andy McReynolds.

Winans said the students considered a baseball or office theme, and went with the cubicle setting.

"Let's put it this way: the boss is away and the staff shall play," the teenage McReynolds said.

The characters participate in a sort of office Olympics. Nye is the C.E.O., McReynolds is the "office worker" or "suck-up," Skarin is the "office idiot," Smith is the "guy who is afraid of everything," and Zimmer is the "party king." They also have built a device that will fire a projectile at least 16 feet, in a straight line.

The third Southeast Polk team includes juniors Lisa Antonelli, Amber Cole and Emily Hart and freshman Arianna Edvenson in "Discovered Treasures," in which teams "present an original performance that includes the portrayal of the discovery of two archaeological treasures. One portrayal will be a team-created version of the discovery of an actual historical treasure. The other portrayal will be the team's depiction of a modern sculpture or structure that exists today but is discovered in the future."

The Southeast Polk team's discoveries are King Tut's tomb, ruby slippers and the Hope diamond.

Antonelli and Edvenson find the tomb. Antonelli portrays a dog, and Edvenson is a canary.

"The canary was like sent in to see if there are poisonous gases, and that's what I'm supposed to do, and I totally hate my job," she said.

Cole and Hart's characters live in the year 2468 and are ready for a beach-themed prom.

At that time, cardboard is an antique, locals have "shell phones" and are capable of teleportation, and "global warming is great because we had an Ice Age and lived to tell about it," Cole said.

Hart helped paint an elaborate backdrop for the skits.

Marvin Cole Jr. and Linda Cole are the team's coaches. They are Amber and Eric's parents.

Another part of Odyssey of the Mind is spontaneous problems, which can be verbal, hands-on or a combination of both.

"They have eight to 10 minutes, and they walk into the room and there's no coach allowed," Marvin said. "You've got a bunch of stuff dumped on a table and they read the problem to you and say, 'OK, solve it.' "

Charlie Winans first learned about Odyssey of the Mind when he lived in Oklahoma. After his family moved to Iowa, they looked to continue their participation in the program. Southeast Polk grew to have four teams in this second year, and three advanced to world finals through the Ames state competition.

The 2010 world finals at the end of May will require each team to raise several thousand dollars, Winans said. He credited principals Chuck Bredlow and Glenn Dietzenbach for their support of Odyssey of the Mind, and the students have committed to a range of fundraisers, such as a tip night at Pizza Ranch in Altoona last week.

Winans said the students have shown that the program is worth the effort.

"It was really exciting to see the same seven team members back involved this year, and to see the siblings who have been involved this year," Winans said.

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