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'Bring it on!'

First-place M-W team readies itself for world odyssey, By Nancy Kriz

CENTRAL VALLEY - Fresh off of its Division III first-place win for its "Discovered Treasures" solution, the Monroe-Woodbury High School team is now regrouping and fine tuning its performance for the forthcoming Odyssey of the Mind world championships at Michigan State University at end of May.

The team advanced this far because of its creative portrayal of the discovery of two archaeological treasures. For months, Alden Burke, Jillian Mazzola, Sylwia Siemion, David Sierra, Matt Taguer and Jennifer Rutishauser have spent hours upon hours developing and finalizing their solution, looking to have the most unique and different presentation than anyone else.

To say they want to win badly is a mild understatement.

"To win first place is like winning the Olympics," said team member David Sierra, a junior.

Teammate Jillian Mazzola echoed his sentiments.

"I want to win," said Mazzola, a senior. "If you've invested the time in all of this, you just want it."

The team's own odyssey began in March, competing at regional finals at Orange-Ulster BOCES, along with 18 other Monroe-Woodbury teams. It was of five M-W gold medal teams to advance to state finals held at the end of March at SUNY Binghamton.

There, the high school team again captured first place and was the only M-W team to advance this year to the world championships.


Team members gathered on Tuesday afternoon after returning from spring break to begin the process of perfecting their performance. They have less than seven weeks, and combined with their school work and other obligations, that's not a lot of time.

But it was clear they would devote whatever was needed to ensure they were ready to give the performance of a lifetime because of the impact of being an "OotMer" had on their lives.

"The positive synergy between you and your teammates - it is life-changing," said Sierra. "It's a very good outlet for a lot of creativity."

Team members stressed the one thing they wanted their presentation to be was non-conventional.

"We try to think of things that might be done that people will think of, and then go against the grain," said sophomore Sylwia Siemion. "We want to be different. We want to be ‘out of the box.' We do things differently and see things differently."

That must have been apparent to Odyssey of the Mind founder Dr. Sam Micklus, who attended the state finals.

Micklus, Garling said, "was in awe of their sets, costumes, performance and solution to this classical problem." Following their performance, he spent a long time with the team as he admired the sets and asked questions.

"Creativity can't be taught," said freshman Jennifer Rutishauser. "But Odyssey of the Mind allows your creativity to grow."

Mazzola spoke of the camaraderie that takes place among OotM team members.

"As long as I can remember, I've been going to regional competitions," said Mazzola, whose sister competed in Odyssey of the Mind, and who with her mother, now coaches the team. "I was lucky enough to be placed on a team that wanted to go to worlds. You're with these people for months, and you're working for a big goal."

‘Smart in the way you think'

Sophomore Matt Taguer, who first tried out in the fourth and fifth grades, but wasn't selected for those teams, agreed.

"This team is like a family," he said. "Our goal is the same."

The Odyssey of the Mind experience is also a journey in self-discovery, the team said.

"You find out so much about yourself," said Siemion. "I learned I really liked performing."

For Taguer, he learned to keep trying. After failing to make teams in middle school, he again gave it a try.

"You should never give up," he said. "In class, I hate working in groups. But here, I learned I can."

Others had even more personal self-realizations.

"I learned about myself that I'm not as lazy as I thought I was," said Sierra. "I can commit myself to something full-heartedly."

As for Mazzola: "I like to work in detail. I'm freakishly oriented to detail."

Team members stressed one doesn't have to be an academic star to be an OotMer. Team member simply should come into the process with a creative outlook and the desire to work hard and long hours.

"You have to be ‘smart' in the way you think," said Rutishauser. "You have to think differently."

Though not an odds maker, Garling felt the team had a good opportunity to do well at the competition.

"Will they place?" she said. "You can't know. I think our M-W high school team has a very strong chance of placing at worlds. Their personal best is pretty awesome. However, Singapore's might be as well. I tell the team, ‘All you can do is your best. If another team's best is better than yours, there is nothing you can do about that.' To all the other Problem 3, Division III world level competitors, I say, ‘Bring it on!'"

In the 11 years that I have been involved in Odyssey of the Mind, as a coach, regional head judge, state judge and district coordinator, I have never seen a team more creative in their problem solution." Debra Garling, the Monroe-Woodbury School District's Odyssey of the Mind and Gifted/Talented coordinator

What will the M-W team do at the Odyssey of the Mind world finals?
?The team will address Problem 3: "Discovered Treasures" in the Division III category.
?With only a $125 budget - already used for its preparation in the regional and state finals - the team of six created and will present its 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 performance includes an artistic representation of the two discovered treasures and characters that are part of the discovery teams.
?M-W team members are Alden Burke, Jillian Mazzola, Sylwia Siemion, David Sierra, and Matt Taguer and Jennifer Rutishauser. They are coached by Jessica Mazzola and Joann Mazzola.
Odyssey of the Mind 2010 World Finals
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Mich.
May 26 to 29
What is Odyssey of the Mind?'
?Odyssey of the Mind is an international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college. Team members apply their creativity to solve problems that range from building mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics. They bring their solutions to competition on the local, state, and world level. Thousands of teams from throughout the U.S. and about 25 countries participate.
?Odyssey of the Mind has its roots in the industrial design classes of Dr. Sam Micklus, Odyssey of the Mind founder. As a professor at Rowan University in New Jersey, Micklus challenged his students to create vehicles without wheels, mechanical pie throwers and flotation devices that would take them across a course on a lake. He evaluated them not on the success of their solutions, but on the ingenuity applied and the risk involved in trying something new and different. Word spread and the students' activities attracted attention from the local media. Eventually, public interest led to the development of a creative problem-solving competition for students.

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