| The Photo News |
An Odyssey to Michigan

By Kelly Voll
AUBURN - Six excited middle-schoolers are about to make Auburn history.

For the first time, an Auburn school will send an Odyssey of the Mind team to the World Finals, held from May 26-29 at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich.

"I'm excited," said seventh-grader Tess Kennedy, a team member. "But I'm nervous at the same time. It's a new experience."

All Odyssey of the Mind teams have to solve a long-term problem. They have several months to develop and practice a solution.

Teams also have to answer "spontaneous" problems, where the team enters a room with judges and must answer a question on the spot. Preparation for these are difficult, as no one knows what the problems will be.

The East Middle School team placed first in Division II for the "Discovered Treasures" problem in the regional tournament, held March 13 at Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES.

The team continued on to the state tournament, held at SUNY Binghamton on March 27, where it took second place in Division II for "Discovered Treasures" and also won the coveted Ranatra Fusca Award for creativity. Either of these honors alone would have made the team eligible to go to World Finals.

The East Middle School team earned the highest score for its long-term "Discovered Treasures" problem out of about 200 teams that were in the same division.

To solve this problem, the team had to perform a skit that depicted the discovery of two archaeological treasures. One had to be the re-enactment of an actual discovery of a historical treasure. The second was supposed to portray a modern treasure that exists today - a sculpture or structure - that will be discovered in the future.

The team won two trophies the regional and state tournaments and each member received two medallions, one for winning second place at states and one for winning the Ranatra Fusca Award.

"What impressed me about this team is that they were competing and having fun doing it," said Mary Denise Slade, the team's facilitator. "They were smiling the whole time."

The team members admit it took time to solidify their relationships with one another.

"I think we needed to learn to work together," Kennedy said. "Once we learned what each other's likes were and what annoyed each other, we learned to work as a team and to like each other."

The team has really bonded in the last few months, said team member Maria Shernesky, a seventh-grader.

"I think we got as close as we could get," she added. "Any closer and we'd be getting married on some tropical island."

The students' parents are thrilled, gearing up for the Michigan trip.

"I'm ecstatic," said Chris Shernesky, Maria's father. "All of us are. All of us have been blown away by this."

The cost to travel to the World Finals is between $8,000 and $10,000, said Jon Carnes, the team's coach. A bus rental and room and board at the tournament are realities the team has to face. But just as the team members relied on their resourcefulness to come so far in Odyssey of the Mind, they are relying on it again to raise funds for the trip.

The students spent time Tuesday in the Auburn High School library signing letters and stuffing them into envelopes. The letters asked for financial assistance for the trip and were addressed to local residents and businesses.

Slade said the East Middle School Honor Society and Student Government Organization have already made donations.

"Everybody's trying to help within the school," Slade said. "If the community could help, it would be wonderful."

The students seemed undaunted by the task of rasing thousands of dollars to fund their trip as they presented to the Auburn Board of Education Tuesday.

Two other teams in the county will also be attending worlds and will share a bus with the Auburn team to cut travel costs. The Cato-Meridian Middle School Team A, which took first place in "Discovered Treasures" Division I, and Skaneateles High School, which took second place for "Column Structure" Division III, will be also get to experience the World Finals. Teams from both districts have been selected for the finals in the past.

Carnes said there will be close to 1,000 teams at the World Finals, and just getting to experience that much global diversity is one of the highlights of the trip. Students from all over the world will gather in Michigan and the East Middle School team has the option to be partnered with a team from a different country for meals and activities, Carnes said.

"It's about the experience," Carnes said. "The honor of being there is what we're looking forward to ... we're representing New York state. That's pretty cool."

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