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Young minds take a crack at creative problem solving

By Rikki Cason
MEDINA -- Testing their problem solving skills, 37 teams from all over Western New York attended the 29th annual Odyssey of the Mind regional competition Saturday in Medina. Each team performed a skit for the judges regarding one of five different long-term problems they could choose from.

"We had 10 more teams this year than last," said Regional Director Sue Tomaszewski.

Participating schools from Niagara County included Lockport, Niagara Wheatfield, Royalton-Hartland, Wilson and DeSales Catholic School. From Orleans County were Medina and Holley and from Erie County were West Seneca and Lancaster.

Competing in division one for the first time in more than six years was Anna Merritt Elementary of Lockport. The group of seven decided to pick the Food Court problem. For that challenge, the students had to create a humorous performance where one food item accuses another of being unhealthy. The kids were required to act as different food items and the accused item had to defend itself.

The Anna Merritt team each dressed as a different item found in a vending machine. Dressing as a bag of Doritos, a Snickers bar, Chips Ahoy cookies, Lifesavers and a box of Slim Jim's, the foods accused a bag of blue corn chips of being unhealthy.

"We're funny," members of the group said as to why they choice to do this problem.

"We knew we could put a lot of humor into it," said Christopher Palumbo, who portrayed a package of Slim Jim's.

Though they did not place overall, the audience cheered as the group finished its skit, which included Palumbo rapping about the heart.

In division two, Wise Middle School in Medina took third place for their problem solving of Nature Trail'r. The students had to create a human-powered vehicle that could travel along with a camper on a camping trip. After arriving at a campground, the vehicle had to leave the camper and travel into nature, crossing several obstacles, wildlife and things needing to be cleaned up in the environment.

The Wise Middle School team created a skit where a mother and her two children travel into nature to go camping. A hungry raccoon and fox come across the family and steal their food and vehicle. The family then chases after the car, finding a bridge that needs to be repaired and a littered forest. After fixing the bridge and cleaning up the forest, the family continues its camping adventure.

"We thought that environmental issues are important," said team member Cameron Morgan, who, dressed like a tree, was the narrator of the story.

Morgan said the team formed because in school they learn a lot about logic and they wanted to do something that involved creative thinking.

In addition to performing its take on the different problems to pick from, each team had to also participate in a spontaneous round.

Tomaszewski said these problems are called spontaneous because teams don't know what they'll have to do until they enter the competition room.

"Solving spontaneous problems teaches students to think on their feet," she said.

The problems are kept "top secret" and only judges are allowed in the room for the performance.

The teams who placed first in each division for the four problems will advance to the state level on March 27, to be held at Binghamton University. No teams entered into the fifth problem category.

In division one, Errick Road Elementary from Niagara Wheatfield will advance for the Nature Trail'r problem, Oak Orchard Elementary School from Medina will advance for the Discovered Treasures problem, Roy-Hart Middle School will advance for the Column Structure problem and both East Elementary School from West Seneca and Roy-Hart Elementary will advance for the Food Court problem.

In division two, West Elementary from West Seneca for the Nature Trail'r problem, West Middle School from West Seneca for the Discovered Treasures problem, Edward Town Middle School from Niagara Wheatfield for the Column Structure problem and DeSales Catholic School for the Food Court problem will advance.

In division three, Medina High School will advance in the Food Court problem. Lockport High School took second and Niagara Wheatfield High School took third in the Division three category, but neither will advance.

Those placing at state will then head to the world finals in May at Michigan State University.

According to Tomaszewski, Odyssey of the Mind teaches students to learn creative problem-solving methods while having fun in the process.

Region 16 Odyssey of the Mind runs as part of the New York state Odyssey of the Mind Association and is coordinated through Orleans/Niagara BOCES. The event is co-sponsored by the Medina Central School District.

Contact reporter Rikki Cason at 798-1400, ext. 8227.

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