Md. kids in world finals at College Park

YOUNG MINDS SOAR IN OLYMPIC MAJESTY

June 04, 1993|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- Take some brown cardboard boxes, shower curtains and pillow cases, add some blue glitter, an ocean background and a touch of Aretha Franklin.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Find out what it means to me

That tells me about

The Old Man and the Sea

Not exactly an orthodox interpretation of the Hemingway classic, but the fourth- and fifth-graders from Kingsville Elementary school in Baltimore County who sang the song were supposed to think creatively.

So were 5,000 other youngsters from across the United States and 21 other countries who gathered yesterday at the University of Maryland's flagship campus for the international finals of the Odyssey of the Mind, a mental olympics designed to promote teamwork and creative thinking.

The competition, for students from kindergarten through college, includes a variety of activities ranging from interpretations of literary classics to building balsa wood structures that will support as much weight as possible.

"This gives students an opportunity to think using their minds and also gain an usual experience to meet kids from all over the world," said Amy DeNike, a third-grade teacher at Kingsville and the team's coach.

"The Olympics requires an athlete to use everything physically, but OM requires you to use everything mentally," said seventh-grader Matt Vogele, from Brecksville, Ohio, as he traded a U.S. pin for a German flag pin. "Plus, you meet people from all over the world, and trading state pins with them helps you remember today forever."

Created in 1978 by Sam Micklus, a professor at Glassboro State College in New Jersey, the Odyssey competition is now sponsored by IBM. Local associations chartered by OM run community, regional and state competitions that culminate in the world finals held at a different college campus each year.

With family members and coaches, the crowd at College Park swelled to 14,000.

Each team competes for three days in three areas -- a long-term project, spontaneous questions and style of overall performance. The winners will be announced tomorrow night.

"Every year we see new inventions that show these kids are really showing sparks of creativity by working in teams," said Matthew Britt, head judge in the Old Man and the Sea Analogy competition.

With only $80 to spend to show their interpretation, members of the Kingsville team became cardboard junkies. "Anything that was cheap and was sold by the Dollar Store, we used," said coach DeNike, as she watched her seven-member team sing on stage.

As for their interpretation of Hemingway, fourth-grader Lindsay Dye said, "that tells about the old man and the sea -- he was battling himself, trying to gain some self-respect."

Dragging onto the stage their trees and a background made from tongue depressors, foam rubber, tin cans and Christmas lights, the seven children from Seven Oaks Elementary School sang their "Let's be creative" theme song as they set up their props.

'We are learning a new way to think creatively. But let me tell you -- it was hard at times," said fourth-grader Lara Morrell, who VTC played the black-eyed susan as part of her team's skit to show how Maryland's state flower was chosen.

Language barriers did not inhibit the young thinkers.

"We don't speak the language well, but we sing the OM song loudly and participate cheerfully," Japanese coach Jiro Kato said.

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