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Odyssey Team Takes on World

Centreville High's championship Odyssey of the Mind team is taking on the world. The six boys and one girl will compete, May 22-25, in the World Finals at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

The team won first place in its age division, March 9, in regionals, and took second, April 13, at states. Appropriately named the Globetrotters, it'll now vie against some 700 teams from every U.S. state and about 20 other countries.

"I'm looking forward to seeing what it's like and all the other competitors," said team member Ryan Sills, 15. "We'll do our best, and it'll be a fun experience to perform there."

For their problem, the Chameleon, they built a vehicle that travels to three different environments, showing a Mississippi riverboat during a poker game, the Grand Canal in Venice and a bicycle in Paris. "When it gets to each environment, it has to blend in with it," said Ben Spainhour, 15. "That's why it's called Chameleon."

The students also had to create a performance to go with each scene and tie them all together. "You have to come up with a format that makes sense," said Spainhour. "Ours was a game show where, if contestants answered a question right, they'd travel to one of the [locations]."

Sills said they brainstormed for ideas about the vehicle's self-contained propulsion system. "It couldn't have a motor or be pulled or pushed," said Sills. "We thought about which were the most logical ideas," said Will Moughon, 15. "All the boys were on Rocky Run's Odyssey team last year, so we knew what was possible and what wasn't."

They used the front end of a bike and made their own rear axle and wheels. "It took us 1 1/2-2 months until we finally had it perfected," said Jeff Simmons, 15. "Then we rebuilt it for World in one day," added Moughon. "We made a new way to stabilize it."

The lone girl on the team, Kanika Singh, 15, said they all contributed ideas and worked well together. "Some of us did the script, some did backdrop painting for the scenes and some built the vehicle."

Simmons and Sills were the engineers who designed and built it, with help from the others, including Chris Forgione, 15, and Jon Doerr, 14. Spainhour drew each backdrop and wrote the script. Singh added to the script, and Moughon wrote commercials for made-up products "advertised" between scene changes.

The hardest part, said Forgione, was trying to get their original vehicle to stay together with duct tape; now it has screws. He said the project teaches teamwork and he was glad to be on a team with friends. Doerr built lots of props for the scenes: "I was like a stage crew."

The purpose of the game show, "Where in the World is Chameleon San Diego?" was to catch a criminal, portrayed by Sills — charged with blending without a blending license. To avoid capture, he and his vehicle had to be camouflaged to blend into each location. Scenes were depicted on bed sheets hanging from shower-curtain rings on a PVC-pipe frame. Said Spainhour: "We could flip it over like an easel for the next scene."

The Venice backdrop of the Grand Canal and its buildings enabled the vehicle to meld with the gondoliers and gondolas painted in the background. And in Paris, the vehicle looked like a tandem bicycle against a scene of the Eiffel Tower, a French flag and a bridge over the Seine River. But the Mississippi riverboat scenario was especially ingenious.

"We created the illusion that the vehicle shrunk, and it was a hand of playing cards," said Spainhour. "We painted playing cards on large sheets of cardboard and put them on the side of the vehicle," added Simmons. "I put my face through a hole in one of them and became the Jack of Diamonds." Said Singh: "It looked as if the audience was a player and was holding the hand of cards."

Centreville's Odyssey team began working on the problem in October, meeting weekly and then more often as competitions arose. They've fine-tuned their vehicle and script even more for the World event.

The best part, said Singh, was "acting it out and competing — that was awesome." Added Doerr: "When we all get together, fun things happen."

And they all thanked their coaches, Victoria Forgione and Elaine Simmons-Beck, for supporting and motivating them. Now, they must raise $12,500 for the Colorado trip. Fairfax County and their school contributed, but they only have $1,700.

Checks payable to Centreville High School Odyssey of the Mind may be sent to: Victoria Forgione, 13936 Stonefield Drive, Clifton, VA 20124. A fund-raising garage sale will be held Saturday, May 18, from 8 a.m.-2 p.m., at 13629 South Springs Drive in Little Rocky Run. To donate items to sell, call 703-815-4568.