NEW PORT RICHEY — Rehearsals are happening all over the place. After school in someone's garage, their living room, lanai or in the back of a school classroom. It's brainy and creative, and all in preparation for the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals being held May 31 through June 3 at the University of Maryland.
Now in its 29th year, Odyssey of the Mind is an international problem solving competition for students in elementary through high school grades. Teams made up of five to seven students must creatively solve a long-term problem that includes an eight-minute skit, for which they have months to prepare. There is also a spontaneous problem for which teams are allotted a few minutes of brainstorming before solving.
After placing in regional and state competitions, five teams from Pasco County schools — the most yet — have qualified for the big event.
The River Ridge High "Eccentrics" team is one of them.
They're a fun and innovative bunch. All are 16-year-old sophomores who attend River Ridge High, except for Ashley Brewer, 17, a junior who goes to Mitchell High.
It was collective creativity that slid the Eccentrics into world competition. They should have been eliminated after placing third in the state competition, but gained extra points for being awarded the Ranatra Fusca Creativity Award.
Their rehearsals are typically a mixture of brilliant chaos, said their coach, Marcine Fiorillo, who brazenly held the last rehearsal in the confines of her living room.
There was her daughter, Katie Fiorillo, desperately seeking her wig — the one made out of 4 pounds of rigatoni pasta. Katie Sweeney was toting a duct tape purse and preparing to get into her costume, a dress crafted from flattened Capri Sun juice containers. Bragen Frank was asking everyone, "Where do you want the sun?" Will Sexauer, Alex Horvath and Ashley Brewer were going about the business of propping up the drooping set, donning masks and costumes and sloshing through the first run-through with their scripts in hand.
After that were some new problems to be solved.
The set for their skit, crafted from random stuff such as PVC pipes, pieces of felt, coffee filters, chicken wire and bed sheets they picked up at the Salvation Army, has to be cut down and packed in a way that can fit on the plane and be easy to rebuild once in the dorms at the University of Maryland. There are jelly beans to restring, stuff to sew, props to mend and remake.
Fundraising stints — carwashes, candy sales — offset the costs of the trip. The school district has enough funds budgeted to give each team $4,000. The travel expenses for the Eccentrics will run about $7,000, Marcince Fiorillo said.
They're getting there.
And when they do, it should be an awesome experience for the world travelers.
"The jump from state to world is huge," Will said. "It's just another caliber."