NEW PORT RICHEY — There are hundreds of children here, their numbers heavily outweighing adults, and mutiny is on the breeze.
They gathered at the sprawling campus of River Ridge middle and high school on Saturday for the regional tournament of Odyssey of the Mind, a competition that awards intellect and mental quickness for teams of children from kindergarten through college. Winners here will continue to state and then to the world tournament. Months ago, teams chose a problem from an Odyssey list and created an eight-minute skit to depict it — with full sets, costumes, scripts and props, all done by their own hands, with parents watching to make sure there were no hot glue gun or glitter-in-the-eye accidents.
In addition to presenting their work, the teams were judged on a spontaneous section, either a question or a hands-on problem.
Time crawls by
After months of work, a departure from home at dawn, the nerves of show time and the stress of broken props and flubbed lines, many still had hours to go before the winners were announced in the late afternoon.
Time moved very, very slowly.
And so these brainiac children let loose on campus, like a bunch of trapped feral cats finally set free.
They chased each other and ran in circles, jacked up on soda and junk food, litter trailing in their wake, pouches of Capri Sun glinting on lawns.
A sweater was flung into the hedges. Any possible projectile was thrown, though, these being good kids, apologies were made if an adult was nearly trampled. Blankets were spread on any somewhat soft surface, though few of the kids took naps.
The adults who still had some energy chugged tepid coffee and guarded costumes and sets, rubbing their faces with their hands and trying to gather trash in neat piles. Some gave in and crashed in the sun, bellies down, arms outstretched, looking like the casualties of battle. No matter which kids win the tournament, these parents deserve trophies.
The parking lot had the look and feel of tailgating before a football game. Parents had coolers of food and lawn chairs set up between bumpers on the asphalt.
Trashtopia takes 4th
The parents of the group of kids from San Antonio Elementary School were holding up pretty well, even if they did hit the road at 7 a.m. They munched on bagels and fruit and sank deep in their chairs.
Nancy Alfonso, an attorney and mother of two, was the official coach and had been working with the kids since October. They've been meeting every day for a few weeks now, as the deadline loomed.
They picked a problem for which they had to be eccentric characters, discussing something about the environment. They decided to create Trashtopia, a park with sculptures made of junk.
India Alfonso, a 10-year-old fifth-grader and Alfonso's daughter, showed off the park's dog, his face made of a Styrofoam sandwich box with a lolling pink construction paper tongue. "He doesn't bite," she said. "He's a vegetarian."
The team ended up coming in fourth place out of 17 groups, which was good, but not enough to send them to state.
Somehow, even at 8 o'clock that night, after being up and running for 15 hours with more work to do before bed, Alfonso's voice was still strong and upbeat. "They all had a great time," said Alfonso, the Energizer bunny of Super Moms. "They're real proud of their accomplishments and so am I."
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4609.