BIDDEFORD — Several Biddeford middle and high school students will be competing in the Odyssey of the Mind, or OM, World Finals this month.

OM pits students from across the globe against each other in a unique competition that involves completing a specific task while simultaneously performing a six-minute skit.

On March 14, Biddeford’s Division III team placed first at the OM Regional Finals at Biddeford High School, and on March 28, the team placed first at the OM State Finals at Sanford High School. Now, the seven eighth- and ninth-grade students are gearing up for Worlds, which will be held from May 20-23 at Michigan State University.

On Tuesday, Biddeford High School ninth-grader Michael Gibney explained the problem each team is facing in this year’s OM competition.

“We have to create a Balsa wood structure that weighs less than 18 grams, is taller than 8 inches and less than 9 inches, and that has removable parts that can hold at least five marbles,” he said.

Gibney, who engineered the structure along with Biddeford Middle School eighth-grader Jared Pierce, said it also has to hold weight ”“ and a lot of it.

“You take off a piece with the marble, put on a weight, take off a piece with the marble, put on another weight,” he said. After all the marbles are removed, you can continue adding weights to the structure until it collapses, said Gibney.

At States, the team managed to support 495 pounds, Victoria Salo, BHS science teacher and OM coach, said Tuesday.

In practice, however, that figure has jumped to 667 pounds, said Gibney. Teams are awarded points for successfully removing marbles as well as for how much weight their structure holds, he said.

“They also have to have a skit involved that talks about losing your marbles, which is what the problem’s about,” said Salo.

BMS eighth-grader Olivia Whittaker explained Tuesday that the team’s skit uses an exaggerated interpretation of human-induced climate change to illustrate that theme.

“We wanted to base our skit off of the future, and how the world is in need of natural resources because of the depletion of them,” she said. In it, for example, mankind struggles to deal with freakish natural disasters such as frogs falling from the sky.

“It’s all creative solutions. That’s really what it’s about,” Salo said in describing the competition as a whole.

BMS eighth-grader Lucas Girard echoed that point. “It’s not really an academic competition,” he said Tuesday. “It’s kind of just creativity.”

When asked about their expectations for Worlds, some of the team members said they were nervous.

Whittaker, however, said she’s more excited than she is nervous. “I’m just excited for this opportunity,” she said. “This is a great opportunity for us. It’s a great experience.”

Salo said more than 800 students will turn up to Worlds, which will include Olympic-esque opening and closing ceremonies. “You feel like you’re in a whole different place,” she said.

Every team has their own pin, too, explained Salo, so students can share something with one another even if there’s a language barrier between them. Biddeford’s pins are fittingly decorated with a tiger, she said.

A team from Massabesic has also qualified for Worlds, said Salo.

People interested in funding Massabesic’s trip to Michigan can visit GoFundMe.com/8bufdc. To help cover travel expenses and the cost of supplies for the Biddeford team, people can visit GoFundMe.com/biddeford-om.

Additionally, Salo said from 3 p.m. until closing time on May 6, Portland Pie Company in Biddeford will be donating 10 percent of their profits on every order to Biddeford’s OM team.

There’s no doubt the competition at Worlds will be fierce. “I’m not sure if there’s even a slim chance of us winning,” BHS ninth-grader Spencer Arnold said Tuesday, pointing to the fact that OM frontrunners can stack well over 1,000 pounds on their Balsa wood structures.

But even if the students don’t come home from Michigan with one of the top prizes ”“ a waist-high trophy ”“ Salo said making it to the international competition is an impressive feat in itself.

“Most of them have never done this before,” she said of the team, which only has one member who had heard of OM before December. “To make it to Worlds is amazing.”

— Staff Writer Angelo J. Verzoni can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]



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