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Odyssey of the Mind teams bond, grow

By Michael Novinson
GOSHEN -- Courtney King felt a little lost when she began preparing for her first Odyssey of the Mind competition in September. Most of her teammates were strangers to her, and she felt a bit scared talking to them.

Fast forward six months, to Saturday's regional finals, which were attended by 700 students from more than 90 schools.

Courtney and her five teammates were declared mid-Hudson's elementary school champions for "Extreme Mousemobiles" and will go to Binghamton for the March 26 state finals. And the Goshen Intermediate School students have gone from awkward silence to being attached at the hip.

"I got to meet Brynn and Emma and Jade and we went to each other's houses and we worked on (the cars)," said team member Jacquelin Hecker-Welge.

"But we got to have fun -- it wasn't all work."

Monroe-Woodbury High School graduated most of the squad that advanced to the 2010 world finals; five of the seven members of its "Tour Guide" team were new to the competition.

"I didn't know anybody before Odyssey," said freshman Saharsh Hajela. "But if you spend 600 hours with them, you become friends."

The inexperienced squad went through three scripts before finally settling on an idea they liked, two months before the regional competition. But their "Wild West rodeo" theme was good enough to take them to the state finals.

From rigorous tryouts to 10:30 p.m. practices for middle school students, Pine Bush takes its Odyssey of the Mind pretty seriously. But coach Jim Sullivan worries that this will be the last year his district participates.

"To save this is virtually impossible with the budget cliff they're looking at," he said.

BOCES employee and Odyssey of the Mind coordinator Adell Donovan declined to comment on Odyssey's financial future. BOCES and districts support the competition.

-- Haverford College student Thy Vo contributed to this story.

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