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Bear River, Magnolia students to compete in Odyssey of the Mind World Finals

Teams plan fundraisers
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal Features Editor
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Twenty gifted students have worked their way up the Odyssey of the Mind competition circuit, and they’re heading to the World Finals in Iowa at the end of May.

Thousands of students will compete in the finals, May 23-26 at the University of Iowa. The Odyssey program challenges students to work as teams to solve creative problems, be they theatrical, grammatical or technical. In October, two teams from Magnolia Intermediate School and one from Bear River High School selected their problems, working after school to come up with solutions.

The Magnolia team chose a technical problem, “Weird Science,” in which they selected a natural phenomenon from the NASA website and had to provide an explanation for it. In addition, they had to build a device – working within a $145 budget – that could pick up two samples from the site. The students chose the Richat Structure, or a deeply eroded 40-kilometer dome in the Sahara desert.

“They have to come up with a solution within that budget, so they use a lot of secondhand materials and trash,” said Michele Uppman, gifted-education teacher and program coordinator. “They are judged on creativity and there certainly are parameters, rules, for each problem that they have to follow.”

The Bear River teams chose acting problems, one called “Odyssey Angels,” in which the students had to come up with a skit about people who help others. In this case, the problem is that a person in the skit can’t talk, so the students had to figure out how that character would communicate.

“Their skit is very clever,” Uppman said. “It is focused on computers, so there are a lot of computer puns in it, plays on words. It’s basically a story of keys that are missing off the keyboard, and trying to retrieve them, but it’s very, very clever.”

In addition to fine-tuning their presentations throughout the competition process, the teams are also given a spontaneous problem at contests, where they have to come up with a solution on the spot.

Bear River senior Shane Weathers, of Grass Valley, has been to the World Finals three times, and said that two years ago his team won the world competition. This year, they took first at the regional and state competitions. The team chose an acting problem, “To Be or Not to Be,” in which the word “be” is replaced with another choice.

They chose to explore whether to break the “fourth wall,” meaning the invisible barrier between actors and audience. Weathers said each member of the team contributed to the problem, including acting, making costumes and props and writing the script.

“For me, it’s one of the best opportunities to be able to really express my creativity,” he said. “I’m a scriptwriter, and I really like to be able to put my heart into my writing.”

Cameron Billingham, of Auburn, is also a senior at Bear River. This is his first year with Odyssey of the Mind.

“It’s probably one of the best decisions I’ve made,” he said. “I’d have to say that the people in this program, and the idea of the program itself, are extremely rare, especially when you go to a public high school. We have no drama department at our school, we literally have three elective choices, so coming after school and creatively solving problems, with basically what you would find in a junkyard, and making costumes out of that, backdrops, all kind of crazy stuff … it’s almost like nothing I’ve ever done before.”

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at krissik@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter, @AuburnJournalAE.

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Odyssey of the Mind events and fundraisers

May 2: Community presentation of projects, 7 p.m., Magnolia Gym, 22431 Kingston Lane, Grass Valley.

May 5: Nicholson Blown Glass open studio and team reception, 4-7 p.m., 5555 Bell Road, Auburn; 20 percent of purchases goes to Odyssey teams.

May 12: NFL Flag Football Clinic, 9 a.m. to noon, turf field, Combie Road. $20 for clinic, ages 5-18. NFL players attending are Anthony Bell (Oakland Raiders), Adrian Ross (Cincinnati Bengals) and Mike Merriweather (Pittsburgh Steelers). $20; portion of proceeds goes to Odyssey teams. (530) 268-7275.

May 17: Dinner out of the Box, Bear River High School parking lot, 11130 Magnolia Road, Grass Valley, 5-7 p.m. Order meal in advance and drive through to pick it up. (530) 268-0343.