Published June 9th, 2010
Odyssey of the Mind World Finals
By Lou Fancher
Moraga Rotary Team A after prop disposal, (L-R) Megan Adachi, Omid Boozarpour, Jarrett Tom, Jack Price, Samantha Garcia, Samantha Bartak, Kyle Dana Photo provided

Take some of the most creative young minds from across the globe, bring them all at once onto a blistering, hot campus in the midwest in late May, and what happens? Answer: Six eighth-grade students from Joaquin Moraga place 7th in the world in Odyssey of the Mind's World Finals.
The Moraga Rotary Club Team A, already sporting first-place blue ribbons after the State level of competition, went to East Lansing, Michigan, expecting the best. Megan Adachi speaks for the group, saying, "Just getting to World is winning!" The attitude is not a slogan; it's what makes this team special.
They are special and "weird," which in Odyssey is good, according to team members Samantha Garcia, Samantha Bartak, Omid Boozarpour, Kyle Dana, Jarrett Tom, Jack Price and Adachi. The kids feed off each other's enthusiasm as they shout out definitions. Weird-the good kind-is energetic, unique, spontaneous, awkwardly social, out-there, narwhal, (Google it,) and "us!" Reaching group consensus, Tom explains why mutual weirdness is important: "The best thing about Odyssey is you can do everything you ever wanted to," he says, smiling, "and you can't look at other people as strange when you're about to go up on stage as half-man/half-woman!"
At World, the Moraga team competed against 62 equally "out-there" middle school groups. Teams from China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Belgium, Poland, Mexico and other countries spent the four-day event rehearsing, competing, socializing and repairing props.
"Right before we were ready to compete, all the props were falling apart," says Boozarpour, rolling his eyes at the memory. Months of use and transportation by truck from California to Michigan caused everyone to wonder if the materials would last. Repairs were done under adverse conditions. "It was so hot, we were sweating," says Garcia. "It was terrible, terrible...terrible!"
The team's spontaneous portion of the competition occurred two days into the event. Because a language-based problem might have given the American team an advantage over international teams, their problem was hands-on. They were given one piece of string, a variety of irregular objects and six minutes to come up with a creative way of suspending all the items from a hook. "The hardest object was a ball with a neck that was wavy," says Boozarpour, carving his hands through the air to demonstrate. The team came up with a physical solution, a theme song and a story. Dana begins to retell the story saying, "I can't remember," then, "it kind of evolved," and finally, "It was something about a baby being thrown out of a plane." Somehow, it clicked with the judges: the team's "spont" scores were some of the highest in their age group.
On Saturday, at their long-term presentation, the team had a large audience of supporters. "It was nice to have the support of the other regional teams," says Janice Adachi, co-team leader along with Linda Wong. "Everyone started cheering for us; it was great," says Price. "We'd made a lot of friends by then," says Garrett, "because of pin trading, mostly."
The pins, designed by each country, are traded voraciously during World competitions. Pin parties are not unlike the floor of the New York Stock Exchange when the Dow plummets or soars: bargaining is fast, bartering is key and victory is in knowing the angles. "The meanest thing anyone could do to you is rip you off in pin trading," says Boozarpour. Amidst the back-and-forth action, friendships are formed and respect for good-sportsmanship through honest competition increases.
The team admits to being in awe of the kids from other countries. "I was dreaming when I thought we might get in the single digits," says Dana, "and we did!" If placing seventh was the best part of this year's competition, the second best part was being with kids from all over the world. The team has fond memories of playing basketball, pin trading with sign language to bridge communication gaps and sharing meals. "It shows you how everyone's the same," says Garcia, "it was entirely fun."
Prop destruction follows the announcement of the final scores. Five months of work vanishes from the face of the earth in 5 minutes. "It took a little longer this time," says Price, "because we all wanted a swing at it." Bartak, who has been quiet through most of the interview, suddenly speaks up: "It wasn't very efficient, but it was so satisfying!"
In the end, the Moraga team won prizes that surpass any award. They won a broader perspective on the world, they solidified a six-member friendship, and they came home proud, confident and immensely happy.
Lamorinda Goes to Odyssey World Finals
In addition to the Moraga team that reporter Lou Fancher has been following this past year, three other Lamorinda teams advanced to the Odyssey of the Mind World Championships garnering outstanding results in their divisions.
Congratulations to:
Happy Valley School Team A, 10th place
Orinda Masonic Lodge Team, 12th place
Glorietta Elementary School Green Team, 21st place


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