Last updated: March 12. 2014 10:42AM - 2135 Views
By Andriane Heine Abington Journal Correspondent

The Abington Heights Middle School Team consisting of Jules Columbo, Emily McCabe, Ashley Hamilton, Joseph Rama, Roy Slavin, Kaelee Whipple and Lily Whetsell won second place in the Classics problem for Division I.
The Abington Heights Middle School Team consisting of Jules Columbo, Emily McCabe, Ashley Hamilton, Joseph Rama, Roy Slavin, Kaelee Whipple and Lily Whetsell won second place in the Classics problem for Division I.
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Odyssey of the Mind’s mission is to provide creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college. Students develop creative, thinking skills which can be applied to real-life situations. Teams from throughout the United States and more than 20 other countries participate in the program. Pennsylvania is a state known to have one of the strongest programs in the nation. Many who participate in OOTM later credit the program with preparing them for success in higher education and challenges like interviews for graduate school.

Each team chooses from one of five competitive problems to solve; some are technical, while others are artistic or performance-oriented. Adult coaches support the students in scheduling and gathering supplies, but can offer no suggestions or ideas. A key part the Odyssey program is purchasing as few supplies as possible; instead using creativity, found and recycled objects to create their solutions.

For competition purposes, the state is divided into six regions. There are about 14,000 students participating in the program across the state. Teams who place first and second at Regionals are invited to compete at the state level. State winners are then invited to participate in the annual Odyssey of the Mind World Finals, where they go up against teams from countries around the world. Teams are scored for their long-term problem solution and how well they solve a “spontaneous” problem on the spot.

“Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible.”

This Albert Einstein quote was displayed on the T-shirt of every Abington Heights student who participated at the Northeast Pennsylvania Odyssey of the Mind Regional Tournament at Pocono Mountain High School West Campus on March 8.

The halls of the competition site were crammed with sets, props and tools while students in self-created and sometimes outlandish costumes rehearsed lines and tweaked apparatuses. The energy was almost palpable, as months of problem-solving and trial-and-error were about to be presented to the judges.

Almost 100 teams, made up of five to seven students each from 11 different Northeastern counties came together to compete. Abington Heights had nine teams, comprised of more than 60 students, participating in Odyssey this year.

Sue Fulton has been coaching the first-place winners from Abington Heights High School for six years.

“This team is made of friends,” she said. “This is part of their social group. The process has developed their ability to think with logic and to design and build complex machinery. They’ve learned electrical wiring and basic principles of physics. It’s a great way to learn in a fun environment. The Odyssey experience has nurtured their creativity and helped to develop their sense of humor, which they have come to be known for.”

A group of seven sophomore boys was comprised of active and engaged young men. Two compete on the Robotics team, six on Track and four on Forensics. They are all honor students in predominantly honors classes. There are two class officers and several in the Interact Club, a division of Rotary International directed at community service projects.

The team has made it to the World finals in the past and had their best Regional scores ever at Saturday’s meet. They won their Division in all three areas of the long-term problem, the spontaneous problem and in the style category.

Gina McCabe, along with Susan Potenzano coached the winning Abington Heights Middle School team.

“This is our fourth year coaching Odyssey of the Mind and it’s been great seeing the kids grow together in so many ways- some as leaders, others as talented actors, musicians and thinkers. They feed off of each others’ strengths,” McCabe said. “Also, we’ve grown into an extended family. As parents, our most quoted saying throughout the process is, “It takes a village…””

“It’s great to come up with an idea or answer and then see my teammates work to make it happen,” fifth-grader Emily McCabe said. “I love when it all comes together and we can be proud of what we accomplished as a team!”

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