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 in 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. They are: the Wonderful Muses from Marlowe Elementary; the Eccentrics from River Ridge High; Team B Dinostories from River Ridge Middle; Tee Structure from Sand Pine Elementary and Tee Structure from Wiregrass Ranch High. The kids in the Tee Structure team from Sand Pine Elementary have been working hard, putting in extra duty rehearsing twice weekly. They've been doing some fundraising to help offset the cost of the trip to Maryland. The school district has enough funds budgeted to give each team $4,000, but the trip will cost more. As for their problem — well Austin Stroup, 11, is in charge of building a structure made from 18 grams of balsa wood and glue that has to balance golf balls and weights that he and his teammate, Jason Winston, 9, have to pile on. This must be completed in eight minutes before a panel of judges while the rest of his team performs a creative and somewhat distracting skit just a few feet away. "He's the mastermind," said Kathy Boudreaux, whose daughter, Amy, 10, is on the team. "He's a future engineer."
At the Gulf Coast Regional Odyssey of the Mind competition, Austin's structure held 117 pounds of weights, helping propel the Sand Pine kids on to state. The structure didn't bear up quite as well there, holding just 97 pounds. But the students' skit and their efforts in the spontaneous problem solving session put them over the top.
"They got the highest in spontaneous and the skit," Kathy Boudreaux said proudly.
The team's skit, a spoof on the morning television show Live With Regis and Kelly is definitely a clever and humorous bit, and it was fun to put together.
"I learned how to be a bigger comedian," said Keegan Welt, 11, who dons chef hat and apron as a "guest" for the kooky skit.
There's definitely some heavy brainstorming that goes on to create the structures, the skits, the scenery, props, costumes — all within a budget of $140. The kids from Sand Pine started working on their long-term project in October and are still tweaking it for the world finals.
"Everyone did their own little parts," said the team's coach, Amy Belisle. Belisle, whose daughter, Hope, 10, is a member of the Sand Pine team, has been coaching teams for seven years. This year she also coached another Odyssey of the Mind team at Wiregrass Ranch High that didn't make it to world competition.
For the most part, the Sand Pine team members worked well together and if they didn't, Luke Suarez, 10, would be ready with his "Happy thoughts; happy happenings" motto.
Odyssey of the Mind is a lot of fun, said Austin. "You learn to think outside the box."