Pupils triumph in a journey of the mind

Kingsville Elementary and Fallston Middle teams take world titles

June 02, 1999|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's world champions of creativity were delivered to school in a white limousine yesterday to the cheers of hundreds of classmates.

Having captured a first place in the Odyssey of the Mind's 20th annual world finals, the team of seven Kingsville Elementary pupils -- wearing gold medals around their necks -- stepped out of the limo into hugs from their principal and onto red carpet leading into the school.

"It's just awesome that we won," said fourth-grader Courtney Rieder, 10. "We worked so hard, and I'm so happy we won."

The Kingsville pupils made up one of two Maryland teams to win their divisions in the world problem-solving competition held during the Memorial Day weekend at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. The other was Fallston Middle School in Harford County.

They are the first Maryland schools to capture top honors in the world championships, Odyssey of the Mind officials believe. Maryland and Massachusetts each had two first-place winners, and Texas schools won first place in five of the 13 divisions.

"It was just so exciting to see the kids win," said third-grade teacher Amy DeNike, who has been coaching Kingsville's team for 13 years. "I just know that there was nobody in the country who worked any harder."

Through its annual worldwide problem-solving contest, the nonprofit Odyssey of the Mind organization promotes creative thinking among students from kindergarten through college.

After winning regional competitions, more than 5,500 students from the United States and 28 other countries competed in the finals. Among them were 13 teams from 12 Maryland elementary, middle and high schools.

Students were divided into categories by age and the type of long-term problem they chose to solve. Problems included "Over the Mountain" -- in which students designed and built a vehicle capable of crossing terrain in three countries to collect souvenirs -- and "O, My Faire Shakespeare," where students rewrote a scene from a Shakespearean play to reflect a historical event.

Kingsville and Fallston won in the "Customer Service" division. They presented eight-minute performances involving a sales transaction that included a memorable customer and "a demonstration of an original product which reflects some aspect of the culture in which the performance takes place."

Kingsville created a sick red car with a thermometer. When anti-freeze didn't work, "anti-sneeze" was used to make the car feel better, said fifth-grader Jessica Baroody, 10. The team also designed a way for mechanics in the garage to make money by playing steel drums with the metal parts "sneezed" out of the engine by the sick car.

"We practiced and we practiced until it was just perfect," Jessica said. Some team members got up at 5 a.m. so they could rehearse in a campus garage before their 8 a.m. performance.

The props -- which were made by the pupils with materials that cost no more than $100 -- were driven to Tennessee by a couple of parents in a rented truck. Yesterday, the winning red car was triumphantly placed on the roof of the Kingsville school.

The other portion of the competition asked students to answer a question, giving them one minute to prepare and several more to respond.

The Kingsville youngsters were told that they were in a hot-air balloon with a pair of binoculars, and were asked to describe what they could see. Creative answers -- such as a Sammy Sosa home run that looked like a lightning bug -- were awarded more points.

Since January, the Kingsville team has been practicing almost 18 hours a week, usually staying past 6 p.m. every school day and then meeting for another four hours on both Saturdays and Sundays.

Much of the time was spent on the long-term problem. But DeNike also devoted one day to spontaneous questions so the pupils could hone their skills at thinking creatively and quickly.

"It was school first, Odyssey of the Mind second and everything else third," said fifth-grader Cara Culotta, 10, repeating the expectations that DeNike gives to all participants before tryouts each winter.

In addition to Cara, Jessica and Courtney, other members of this year's Kingsville team included fifth-graders Anna Zink, Megan Goralski and Caitlin Shipley and fourth-grader Taylor Colonna.

Two years ago, the Kingsville team -- which included the siblings of two of this year's team members -- placed second in the world finals, winning silver medals. Last year, the team slipped to a disappointing 25th after their props fell apart during the competition.

Neither Fallston Middle nor Harford County school officials returned phone calls yesterday.

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