ALLEGANY, NY – Two teams from Allegany-Limestone Central School won the regional Odyssey of the Mind competition Saturday and will attend the state tournament in Binghamton on Saturday.

Odyssey of the Mind is a creative problem-solving program for students from kindergarten through college. Students work together at length to solve a predefined long-term problem and present their solution at a competition. The competition usually includes a skit in which students build props and sets out of sometimes-predetermined (or heavily suggested) materials.

“It’s a sporting event that harnesses creativity; more districts should get involved,” said Jean Oliverio, Odyssey of the Mind Region 19 director. The region includes 22 districts in Cattaraugus and Allegany counties.

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Oliverio hopes that the main takeaway for contestants is the ability to solve problems.

In addition to working on a predefined long-term problem, students must participate in a spontaneous portion of the competition by generating solutions to a problem they have not seen before the day of competition -- usually a word problem or a physical challenge. Either involves creative elements, such as coming up with a sentence full of alliteration or building a load-bearing tower out of marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti.

Allegany-Limestone has only hosted this event a “handful of times” according to Kiki Youngs, coach of the Problem 5 high school team that won first place during Saturday’s competition. The team included 10th graders Ron Jakubczyk, Lilly Weiss, Maura Vosler, Kim Nevin, Jordanne Youngs and Allyson Youngs and 12th grader Erica Volz.

Youngs won an “Omer” award (Omer is the raccoon mascot for the competition) for best coach. The second Allegany team attending the state completion was a Division II (middle school) team which took second place, but also received a random “lottery slot” that allows them to move forward.

Al Bernstein, Cattaraugus County Clerk, and his wife Paula are among those who volunteer as judges for the regional tournament. In a previous interview, he explained why he volunteered his time judging this competition:

“I enjoy watching the kids express their creativity,” Bernstein said. “It’s nice to see young people taking an interest in live performances.”

Another judge, Matt Tyssee, an education major at St. Bonaventure University, commented, “These problems are so bizarre. The kids challenge themselves creatively, and it’s interesting to see. The arts are underplayed, and it’s nice to see it in an academic setting.”

Penny Owen, the Odyssey of the Mind director for Allegany-Limestone Central School, described this competition as “a creative outlet for anybody, whether it’s artistic, musical, acting or intelligence.”

“It encompasses more students, not always the types you see at the basketball game," Owen said. "The bonding between teammates, the way they support each other and other teams is absolutely amazing.”

Sue Pircio, an Allegany-Limestone teacher, has served as the New York State director for Odyssey of the Mind, for two and a half years. She started as a coach her first year teaching at Allegany, then became a coordinator, a judge at the state competition, a judge at the world competition and the Odyssey of the Mind director for Allegany-Limestone Central School.

“This is an awesome program,” Pircio said, “It fosters creativity, teamwork, commitment, all things that are important later in life.”

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