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Mitchell team on long Odyssey of the Mind

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TRINITY -

A Tasmanian devil named Frank, a variation on a time-honored fairy tale and creativity in overdrive are among the ingredients that have led to success for an Odyssey of the Mind team from J.W. Mitchell High School.

The group placed second in their category at the state competition last month, allowing them to advance to the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals, which are scheduled Wednesday through Saturday at Michigan State University.

The Mitchell group hit the road Monday on the 1,200-mile journey to East Lansing, Mich., “with all of us practicing spontaneous (problems) for hours and hours,” team member Caitlin Freitas said.

In Odyssey of the Mind, teams of five to seven students dream up creative solutions to a long-term problem and a spontaneous problem.

The students begin working on the long-term problem in the fall. They are given a scenario that sets some rules, but leaves room for imagination.

Depending on the problem, the students build props or a structure, and in some cases design costumes. Limits are placed on how much money they can spend.

Although the team from Pasco represents Mitchell High, it gets a boost from two Seven Springs Middle School students who round out the group.

The members are: Jackie Freitas, Evan Roberson, Alexander Thurston, Joseph Lamar and Kara Talanda, all of Mitchell High, and Caitlin Freitas and Rebecca Roberson of Seven Springs.

The Mitchell team’s problem involved building three small vehicles, each with a different propulsion system. The vehicles deliver parts of an animal that must be assembled. The animal then performs a trick.

Inspired by Bugs Bunny cartoons, the team members chose a Tasmanian devil as their animal in a nearly unanimous vote.

Alexander was the lone holdout, possibly voting for a dinosaur.

“I don’t even remember,” he said.

That was in October. Too much time and too many rehearsals have passed for Alexander or his teammates to have a firm recollection.

They do recall that Kara dubbed the Tasmanian devil Frank, a name that stuck.

Once Frank’s nine pieces are assembled, the team attaches a sponge to his spinning tail so he becomes something of a hairy maid.

All this happens through the backdrop of a story titled “Frost Cream,” a takeoff on the Snow White fairy tale, with a wicked stepmother, a mirror, a bunny, two dwarfs and a tree rounding out the cast.

A great deal of planning and rehearsal goes into this part of Odyssey of the Mind, but the judges also want to know that team members can improvise.

So at the competition, the teams also confront a spontaneous problem. Preparation for that is trickier.

“All we can really do is practice other spontaneous problems from years past,” Evan said. “That helps us get the creative juices flowing.”

The build-up to the moment when the judges reveal the spontaneous problem can cause the jitters.

“In the morning, just thinking about it, you get nervous,” Caitlin said. “After it’s over, I never feel there was something to worry about.”

More than 800 teams from around the globe will compete at the World Finals.

To pay for the trip, the Mitchell team held fundraising events, such as garage sales. They also received sponsorships from businesses and groups, Gulf Coast Odyssey of the Mind and teachers at Mitchell High.

Jennifer Freitas, the mother of Jackie and Caitlin, coaches the team. She became involved with Odyssey of the Mind several years ago when Jackie joined as a third-grader.

Her entry into coaching was serendipitous. Jackie’s team made it to the state competition that year, but the coach couldn’t make the trip. Freitas stepped into the fray.

“Once I saw what it was about, I thought, ‘What a great learning experience for the kids,’ “ Freitas said.

She has coached ever since.

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