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Massabesic dominates at Odyssey of the Mind tourney

By Dan Bustard

Paper airplanes, talking food, historical sites and costumed performers took control of the Sanford High School campus Saturday, vying for top spots in the 2010 Maine Odyssey of the Mind competition.

The 10th anniversary of Odyssey of the Mind in the state drew around 700 students from across the state. The creative problem-solving event featured a special guest, founder Dr. Samuel Micklus, who received rock star treatment from adoring coaches and students taking his picture.

Several area schools earned the right to attend the World Finals at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich. April 26-29 by placing first or second in their division.

The hosts fared well, with Sanford High School collecting first-, second- and third- place finishes. Teams from Massabesic High School and Middle School dominated the event, earning four first-place finishes, a second place and a third place along with an award for exceptional creativity.

Teams from Gorham proved their performing mettle with Village Elementary School teams grabbing first- and second-place finishes and Gorham Middle School earning first-place honors. The Holy Cross School in South Portland grabbed a second-place finish.

Students wrote their own scripts for each competition, which sought to promote creative problem solving.

Local schools collecting third place included Massabesic Middle School's Division 1I team in Discovered Treasures and Sanford High School's Division III team in Food Court.

Teams competed in three divisions, grades 3-5 in Division 1, grades 6-8 in Division II and high school grades in Division III. One college team from the University of Maine competed in Division IV, while grades K-2 took part in each event but were not scored.

Students competed in several events, including Nature Trail'R, where teams designed and built a human-powered vehicle to overcome obstacles on a camping trip; Return to the Gift of Flight, creating aircraft that could complete flight plans; Column Structures, where balsa wood was turned into columns to see which could hold up the most weight; Discovered Treasures, where students traveled to two historical archaeological sites through imagination and props; and Food Court, where food was placed on trial for being less than healthy and students dressed up like food.

The students had judges and audiences rolling in the aisles at times, amazed during others and applauding all day long. Massabesic High School's Ralph Plumpton's impassioned Food Court performance of a father potato lamenting his son's decision to become a greasy steak fry filled the high school music room with high notes of laughter.

"Not too many young people are asked to think," said Micklus, who asked his college students in New Jersey to solve problems and decided to try this approach with younger students.

Comparing himself to Mrs. O'Leary's cow Daisy, blamed for starting the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Micklus said he continues to be amazed at how Odyssey of the Mind has grown in the U.S. and several other countries. The World Finals had more than 800 students last year.

"It was only going to be a one-time thing," he said. "I guess it hit a nerve."

"Everybody wants to see Dr. Sam,' said Fern Brown, co-director of Maine Adventures in Creativity, sponsors of Odyssey of the Mind in Maine, early Saturday morning.

Micklus visits several state competitions each year along with the World Finals.

Brown works in Sanford's elementary schools and echoed Micklus' belief in the benefits of Odyssey of the Mind, particularly getting students to write and perform before a crowd.

"What is by far our biggest fear? Public speaking," she said. "This gives students an opportunity to develop comfort and poise."

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