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Bull Run's Odyssey Team: World Champs

Make way for the world champs! Not only did Bull Run Elementary send two teams to Boulder, Colo., for the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals, but one team came in 10th out of 60 and the other team won the championship.

"I'm very proud of both of them," said Principal Thom Clement. "To get to that level is a once-in-a-lifetime thing; and to win — or even come in 10th out of that many teams — is incredible."

Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) was also delighted. "It's the first team in the history of Fairfax County to win it," he said. Bull Run competed last Friday, May 24.

The students vied against teams from throughout the U.S. and more than two dozen foreign countries; Bull Run's victorious team A consists of: Dustin Moore, Leah Troscianecki, Sherwin Yu, Arjun Khanna, Bethany Horstmann, Kathleen Gately and Diane Palko. Coaches are parents Bill Moore and Tami Troscianecki.

Team B members are: Alex Adere, Nabeela Hasan, Jessica Mullins, Erin Friedlander, Chris Thomas, Courtney Hubbard and Caitlin Booe. Coaches are parents Barbara Mullins and Marianne Thomas.

"Odyssey of the Mind is such a positive mental challenge for kids," said Clement. "It's a stimulating opportunity for them to use their creative, problem-solving skills."

Teams were judged on their long-term problem, presentation style and ability to solve a problem spontaneously. Calling Bull Run's competitors "very bright kids," Clement said most had worked together on Odyssey projects for a few years so they're comfortable with each other and feed off each other's ideas.

Team A competed in the division for ages 12-14. All but Bethany, a fifth-grader, are in sixth grade. Their project was named Chameleon: They had to build a vehicle and camouflage someone in it in three, different environments.

"Our vehicle was made out of plywood with 130 golf balls underneath, instead of wheels, to be creative," said Leah Troscianecki, 12 1/2. "We figured everyone would use wheels."

The vehicle had a big hole in the middle, and the children attached a crutch to it and moved it along like a rowboat. They painted it gray so their colorful props — a library information stand and a 5-foot book with all three environments on it — would stand out.

The storyline of the play they wrote centers around Ahab from "Moby Dick" as a bookworm searching in a library for a wife. The chameleon theme comes in when he makes too much noise and the librarian tries to find him to "shhh" him. Said Leah: "That's why he's hiding and needs to be camouflaged into the environments."

Ahab begins by looking in the book, "The Wizard of Oz," so the first environment, or backdrop, shows Dorothy, the tin man and the lion on the yellow-brick road with Emerald City in the background and a cornfield to one side.

"I was Dorothy," said Leah. "We cut a hole [above] her costume and, at times, I'd put my face there." Ahab doesn't find a wife in that book, so he asks the library-information girl what to do now, and she tells him to look for a mate on the computer.

"But he types in 'shipmate,' and that's how he gets onto the second environment — a ship," explained Leah. "It's a 'Moby Dick' scene, showing the front of a ship painted to look three-dimensional, waves and Capt. Ahab standing [in the middle] of the boat."

Next, since he still hasn't found a mate, he again consults the library girl and she tells him to look in the newspaper. He visits Sherlock Holmes for help, and the third environment consists of lots of newspapers, plus drawings of each of the three environments.

"In the Sherlock Holmes environment, the librarian — who can't see well — keeps putting on bigger and bigger glasses to see the noisy bookworm better," said Leah. "Finally, she takes off her glasses and they both fall in love at first sight. Since love stories aren't usually popular at elementary-school level, we thought the judges would think it was really mature of us to do a love story."

Arriving in Colorado, she said, her team was hoping for "second or third place — maybe first, if we were lucky. Competition in world finals is very tough." Instead, team A from Bull Run walked off with the top prize. The school was awarded a trophy — "It's huge, about 2 feet high," said Leah — and each team member got a gold medal.

"We were really not expecting it so, when they called our name, we were so surprised — we were screaming," she said. "And a lot of our parents were crying — it was so funny."

The Odyssey teams returned home to Centreville, the beginning of the week, and more kudos awaited them at Bull Run. "It was so awesome at school," said Leah. "We all wore special shirts and, everywhere we went, everyone said, 'Congratulations.'"