Odyssey students eyeing competition

A n ingenious crew of middle school students from Whitehall is hopeful that the third time is indeed a charm.

The six junior high students who are participating in this year’s Odyssey of the Mind program will try to become the first team from Whitehall to win this weekend’s regional competition. The event will be held Saturday at Queensbury Middle School.

This is the third year a team from Whitehall has participated in the competition, and in both instances the team has finished in second place.

“We’re hoping the third time is a charm,” seventh grader and first time participant Morgan O’Dell said.

The team is coached by Karen Gordon, a librarian at Whitehall High School, and Sandy James, a speech therapist in the district. The duo rejuvenated the Whitehall program three years ago after more than a decade without a team.

Odyssey of the Mind is a creative problem-solving competition involving students from kindergarten through college. Teams select a problem, create a solution, and then present their solution in a competition against other teams who selected the same problem.

The problems tend to require a variety of skills and knowledge of different subjects, ranging from engineering and physics to English. Most problems also require students construct an object, create a script and make their own costumes. Think science class meets drama club.

Whitehall’s team, which is made up entirely of sixth, seventh and eighth graders, has been meeting for two hours a day, twice a week since September.

“It’s the best part of my day,” Gordon said.

During those times, students have worked on their long-term problem which involved the construction and movement of three “vehicles” (the details are being kept under tight wraps until this weekend). They also practice developing solutions to spontaneous problems. For instance, students have been asked at the spur of the moment to create objects using only paperclips, an exercise aptly titled, “paperclip torture.”

“It really teaches you how to think outside of the box,” said Victoria Davis, an eighth grader who, along with Logan LaChapelle, is the only student from this year’s team who was also on last year’s team.

They are joined by newcomers Jazmyn McCall, a sixth grader, and seventh graders O’Dell, Jessica Bruce, and Courtney Wiskoski.

Because Odyssey of the Mind incorporates so many different skills and areas of knowledge, the group relies on the strengths of each individual.

LaChapelle, for instance, is the group’s builder. If something needs to be cut, drilled, sanded, or fastened together, the task falls on him.

Davis is leaned on for her artistic creativity and McCall is known for her humor and off the wall ideas. Wiskoski and Bruce bounce from one task to another, providing help wherever it’s needed, and O’Dell will have one of the bigger roles on stage (at the risk of giving too much away, let’s just say her costume is a little different than those of her teammates) during Saturday’s competition.

“They are all very cooperative and work very well together,” said Gordon. “They’re excellent thinkers and are very creative.”

The group also had to stick to a tight budget. They had to make the solution to their problem, and create costumes and props for $145. No outside help is allowed.

“We learned that cardboard is our friend,” McCall said.

Bruce said, and her teammates agreed, that the experience has made the students better friends.

“We’ve really gotten to know each other, especially those that are in different grades,” she said.

On Saturday, the students will be evaluated on two main criteria: style or creativity and the technical aspect.

If things go well, and the team is confident it will, they could be the first team from Whitehall to win and would automatically receive an invitation to the state competition in Binghamton later this month.

Some of the team members admitted to being nervous, including their coach, James, who joked she’s had nightmares about Saturday’s competition. But Davis was quick to offer some advice.

“I’ve told them, if you get stuck, just improvise. The worst thing that could happen is we get second again,” she said.

Whitehall is scheduled to take the stage shortly after noon on Saturday inside the gymnasium of Queensbury Middle School. Admission is free and friends and family are encouraged to attend.




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