Rowlett Elementary, Johnson Middle readying for Odyssey of the Mind world championships

jajones1@bradenton.comMay 15, 2014 

BRADENTON -- With nothing more than balsa wood and glue, Johnson Middle School Odyssey of the Mind team members constructed a tiny trestle structure weighing about the same as 12 paper clips that can support more than 400 pounds.

Team members hope the structure can hold even more, let's say the combined weight of two National Football League linebackers.

Not only does the structure have to hold a prodigious amount of weight, it has to be aesthetically pleasing, providing what coach Charlyn Gauthier calls an "artistic representation."

"You never look at anything normally," said eighth-grader Elise Maddaloni of the problem-solving process.

It's beyond thinking outside the box.

"You get rid of the box," Elise said.

The creative problem solvers from Johnson Middle and Rowlett Elementary School are preparing to represent Manatee County in the Odyssey of the Mind's World Finals Competition May 28-31 at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. They won the right to compete by finishing in the top two of all Florida teams in their divisions.

Most Johnson Middle School structural team members are eighth-graders who have been competing in Odyssey since they were fourth-graders at Rowlett.

Two years ago, the Johnson team lost out in its bid to reach the World Finals, where they would face teams from around the United States and the world.

"We have always worked for it, and it was nerve-wracking this year," Chloe Bayliss said of the effort to finish in the top two in the state.

Christine Sket, parent coach of the Rowlett Odyssey team, calls her third- through fifth-graders the "Sensational Seven." Members include fifth-graders Daniel Rivera, Emory Hemmel, Jack Kelly, fourth-graders Jackson Bendixen, Gabby Sgro, Riley Williams and third-grader Roman Bendixen.

Rowlett's Sensational Seven team chose "The Not-So-Haunted House" as their long-term problem for the competition, which includes an 8-minute performance that answers the problem using props and special effects. Judges score teams on originality and engineering.

The house includes pulleys and cranks, and lots of special effects, including gumballs that slide down a zip line and strike a mirror, a skeleton dog named "Skinny," and a gingerbread man, plus a surprise at the end, said Riley Williams.

Johnson Middle School and Rowlett Elementary School students are raising money to pay for the trip to Ames.

Websites to collect donations include Johnson Middle School's at and Rowlett's at

Students have also raised money by selling T-shirts, plants, candy and more.

Rowlett team members will collect donations at the Westgate Publix, 3913 Manatee Ave. W., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.

The Odyssey of the Mind students and families will also work for tips and donations at Ellenton's Hungry Howies, 5912 18th St. E., Ellenton, from 4-8 p.m. Tuesday.

James A. Jones Jr., Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter: @jajones1.

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