WESLEY CHAPEL — It started with a brainstorm. Always does.
Back in September, seven brainy and very creative kids — five from Weightman Middle and two from Wesley Chapel Elementary — were tossing around ideas to create an eight-minute skit called "Food Court" that would wow the judges and get some laughs.
Now, after months of after-school and weekend practice sessions, a lot of collaboration and even more give-and-take, the team is pretty close to reaching the ultimate goal.
Having landed a first-place showing at the Gulf Coast Regional Odyssey of the Mind competition in February and second in state in April, the Weightman Middle School Food Court Team is gearing up for the 31st Odyssey of the Mind World Finals, May 26-29 at Michigan State University. The team is one of seven from Pasco County, and the only local middle school to qualify for the "OM" event. (The rules allow younger kids to participate in older teams, so the elementary students were allowed on Weightman's team.)
It's a very big deal, said Wesley Chapel Elementary teacher Marci Williams, who, as the team coach and mother of two team members, is allowed to oversee but not advise the students.
"We're so excited, " she said. "Weightman has been sending a team to OM ever since the school opened 19 years ago, and this is the first time anyone has gone to World."
Odyssey of the Mind is an international educational program that offers different problem-solving opportunities for students in kindergarten through college. Each year, thousands of students from about 25 countries are invited to offer their creative solution to a problem — from mechanical to literary — and compete on the regional, state and world levels.
No doubt, the kids from Weightman have been quite good at proving their literary and theatrical prowess by penning and acting out a "Food Court" script that was big on wordplay and followed the parameters set out for their chosen problem.
According to OM guidelines, the cast must be made up of various food items, including one who is accused of being unhealthy and must defend itself before a jury of its peers. Not to give away too much, but in this case there's a cereal killer.
"We just thought of random things that would fit into our script," said Angela Cingoranelli, 10. "It's a very 'punny' script."
Students also had to create their own props and costumes with a budget limit of $125. Recycling came in handy as students came up with various uses for old bottle caps, beads, candy wrappers and vegetable can labels.
The team worked well, but it wasn't always easy.
Everyone had his or her own thoughts about how things should be done, said Tyler Maister, 13. "So we made one rule. If someone comes up with an idea and you don't like it, you have to replace it with another idea."
And while the team exceeded expectations with its skit, there's room for improvement in the "spontaneous" category, where team members are expected to solve various problems, from literary to mechanical.
"We did well at Regional but we could have done better," Tyler said. "We're really working on spontaneous."
For the next couple of weeks, team members will continue to practice and do some fundraising to raise the $8,000 needed to send team members to World. So far, they've raised about half that amount, which includes the $1,000 from the school district, $500 from Gulf Coast Odyssey of the Mind and other business donations.
Team members had to plod through, selling popcorn and refreshments at various school events.
This is, after all, an opportunity that shouldn't be missed.
"I think anyone who has ever done OM should experience World," said Victoria Reidy, 12, who plays Boston Baked Beans for the skit and has been to the world stage once before. "It's great. You get to meet people from different countries and see everyone's props, everyone's ideas."
Michele Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (727) 869-6251.