It’s all about creative problem-solving, so it’s a natural for Franklin County School students.
The middle and high schools’ Odyssey of the Mind extra-curricular teams, part of a worldwide program where students apply ideas and imagination to bring to life unique scenarios that compete against other students, has completed another successful season, this time marked by the school’s first-ever trip to state competition.
After winning the Emerald Coast regional competition in Crestview Feb. 23, freshmen Ursula Countryman, Krista Martina, Kendall Meyer, Anna Riley, Jaylynn Lyston and Trinity Hardy headed off to the University of Central Florida campus in Orlando last weekend.
In March, the school board gave its unanimous support for the trip, and voiced a huge thumbs-up to the work of the students and their coach, high school language arts teacher Lydia Countryman. In addition the board members listened appreciatively as the team members sang, a capella, the two original songs that accompanied their performance.
At the outset of the season the high school team made its choice among the five possible “problems” that the worldwide Odyssey organization offered for the 2012-13 season. Two songs, accompanied by some type of choreography, had to be incorporated in the Seahawks’ solution to “ARTchitecture: The Musical,” which required teams to create and present an original performance that includes a replica of a documented architectural structure that was built between 1,000 and 1,600 AD.
The performance had to include three works of art that "disappear" and two characters that go on a quest to find them. Once found, the works of art had to be incorporated into the replica. No more than $125 could be spent, and the performance could last no longer than eight minutes.
Incorporating colorful costumes and basing their songs on several popular hits of the day, the team chose as their architecture the giant moai statues of Easter Island in the Polynesian Triangle of the southeastern Pacific Ocean, created by the early Rapa Nui people.
The young women created at Countryman’s St. George Island home a giant replica of a statue made out of paper mache and appearing amazingly like the real thing.
Out of the 18 teams that competed from around the state, the young women finished solidly in the middle of the pack, beset by point deductions for having exceeded the eight minute time limit by a mere 13 seconds.
“It was an incredible experience and I am thankful we were able to go. We will shoot for World Finals for next year,” said Ursula Countryman upon the entourage’s return.
“I enjoyed meeting Odyssey kids from other schools across Florida and seeing how they solved their long term problems,” said Lyston.
For others, such as Meyer, the high point came when the students got to meet Omer, the Odyssey of the Mind’s raccoon mascot. Sam Micklus, who co-founded Odyssey in 1978, was on hand to address the Florida students with an encouragement speech about creativity and competition.
Key to both teams’ success has been the work of parent volunteers. David Meyer, Heather Riley, Patty Kulick, Rose Griffin and Gary and Jamie Martina all ventured to Orlando for the state competition. At the Crestview tournament in February, Kulick, Jim Edwards, Dana Whaley and Jaime Martina all served as workers, which is required of each school.
The middle school team, which unlike the high school team is a collection of boys plus newcomer Kiana Foley, was equally enthusiastic at the regional competition but failed to advance.
They chose as their problem “It's How You Look at It,” which called for them to create and present an original humorous performance that includes two characters that act naturally - to them - but odd to those around them. One scene will establish the "normal" behavior of one character that, at some point in the performance, finds itself among others who react to the out-of-place behavior. The other character's behavior will stand out too, but this character will end up in a setting where its odd behavior is considered normal. The performance will also include a meter that indicates the degree of odd/normal behavior and a creative scene change.
Connor Smith, a team veteran, said the team set their performance at a carnival, and had four scenes, each at a different locale. In the opener, Fisher Edwards played a screecher, whose yells are normal while he rides a roller coaster. The “Hand Guy” played by Smith, believes his hand is talking to him, but in a subsequent scene, where they encounter a ventriloquist, this action is seen as normal.
Kiana Foley showed the reaction to the odd behavior, while Duncan Whaley played a security guard in the opening scene, and later a ticket taker in the carnival booth. Ethan Riley played the “Park Nerd” which added the necessary humor to the play, while Rory Countryman was the strong man, whose strength caused a hand-made meter – modeled after the “Test of Strength” mallet-swinging contraptions that ring a bell with powerful swings - to indicate where the behavior fit on the odd-normal chart.
Later the scenes changed to the shooting gallery and the fortune teller, and each time the curious interplay of normality seeming odd, and vice versa, was enacted.
In addition to these long-term performances, both teams also have to compete with spontaneous performance that stress quick creative thinking and teamwork.
In Crestview the middle team confronted the challenge of seeing how many tennis, golf and ping-pong balls they could stack, with the help of an enormous dictionary and pipe cleaners. FCHS teacher Charlie Wilkinson this year qualified as a judge for the spontaneous segment of the competition.
Foley voiced the widespread student enthusiasm for Odyssey as she showed off the pin she received from competing in Crestview.
“I heard about Odyssey last year at the summer lock-in,” said Foley. “Plus I’m an artist so I like creating stuff like this.