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Odyssey allows minds to wander

Try this for amusement: Take a tiny pile of balsa wood, build a structure no more than 18 inches high and see if you can make it hold more than 600 pounds of weight.

Why not? School kids have done this as an Odyssey of the Mind project in the past.

Not tough enough? Try this one. Set up a delayed action/reaction structure so it will set off 15 different activities _ change color, rise, fall, roll, whatever _ at five-second intervals.

Our school kids have done that, too. And more.

They'll be at it again on March 7 at River Ridge High School for the second local edition of Odyssey of the Mind.

The project started in 1978 in New Jersey schools. Since then, more than 9,100 schools in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, China, the former Soviet Union, Europe and Japan have set up technical and performance demonstrations to show their creativity and ingenuity as well as their ability to do research and work in teams.

Last year, 250 schools in Florida were in on the act. One of them was River Ridge, and its participants and sponsors did such an outstanding job, the school has been chosen to play host to the project again this year. At deadline, 700 kids from Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties had signed up to match their wits with the challenges of physics, math and drama. That's 200 more than signed up last year. Almost as many adults have volunteered their time to coach the kids and judge their efforts.

At a time when the biggest crowds in the county are brought together in large part because of their fear of teen-agers, it's heartwarming to see so many young people getting involved in such a positive, exciting and worthy contest. By my count, these bright and enthusiastic kids outnumber the bad overwhelmingly. And this is just one small activity. Think of all the kids in other neat projects.

This afternoon at 2 p.m., the project's sponsors will hold a concert at River Ridge High School to try to raise money to pay for the Gulf Coast Region Odyssey of the Mind tournament. The River Ridge Faculty Band, Knight Sounds and the 42nd Street Jazz Band will play, and tickets are $5 for students and seniors, $7 for adults. The bands will play jazz, swing, and three decades of easy rock.

So far, only $350 has been raised toward the $2,000 needed to carry on the tournament. They'll need another $2,000 to send local winners to higher competition.

If you want to volunteer to help at the tournament or in any other way, call Cathy Wildey at 842-8485.

A while back, I shared my thoughts on how state Senate district lines should be redrawn in Pasco County as the state reapportions representation for state and federal offices.

It seemed more advantageous to me for Pasco to have parts of two or three senators, rather than all of one senator. That way, if one senator didn't warm to an idea, we could go to another senator for help. In addition, I felt there would be an advantage to having representation on several different senatorial committees.

Not surprisingly, several people disagreed with that theory.

In fact, Pasco commissioners have passed a resolution backing the one-county, one-senator idea, and they have instructed the county lobbyist to push it hard. And state Rep. John Long, D-Land O'Lakes, agrees. They feel that it may be the best and only way to get the "full attention" of a senator. At present, Pasco is represented by three senators, but none of them actually live within the county's borders.

Having a Pasco senator isn't a brand-new idea. Back in 1986, when state Rep. John Grant, a Tampa Republican, was trying to become state Sen. John Grant and represent part of Pasco, it was a big issue. Grant pledged that if he were elected senator, he would do what he could to get Pasco its own senator.

Grant says he will propose the idea, but he's not guaranteeing anything will come of it. He says Democrats will probably try to carve up the district to maintain or increase their power. Conversations I've had in the past with Sen. Karen Thurman, a Dunnellon Democrat who also represents part of Pasco, indicates that is true as far as she is concerned.

This week, the citizen lobbying group Common Cause came out with its proposal for Senate districts and it shows Pasco sharing one state senator with a small corner of Hernando County. It takes 323,448 people to form a senatorial district, and the 1990 census shows Pasco with only 281,131. Common Cause's District 13 would pick up 42,317 people in the southwest part of Hernando, with the rest of that county lumped with Citrus, Lake and Sumter counties.

Some Hernando residents may object to this new division, but in truth, it's quite logical. People in southwest Hernando identify much more with Pasco than they do with, say, Lake or Sumter. Check out the cars at Gulf View Square Mall or the Olive Garden restaurant in Port Richey, and you'll see a lot of Hernando plates and Spring Hill decals.

Bill Jones, the Common Cause executive director, said the organization's own standards mandate keeping a county under one senator whenever possible so citizens "will be able to hold their elected official accountable."

Besides, Jones said he has heard in passing that Pasco wants its own senator.

Sounds as though Pasco people are passing the word quite effectively in Tallahassee.