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Preston students take top prize

A team of students from Preston Area School took first place in the Division II Ready, Set, Balsa, Build competition at the Northeastern Pennsylvania Odyssey of the Mind Regional Tournament held on Mar. 11 at Pocono Mountain West High School.

Their score—just shy of 300 points—beat competition from Delaware Valley Middle School, Crestwood Middle School and Pocono Mountain West Junior High School. The Preston team will advance to the state level competition, held on Apr. 1 in Moon Township, Pennsylvania.

Odyssey of the Mind is an annual problem-solving competition which “stresses teamwork and quick thinking while giving K-12 students an outlet to nurture and showcase their skills,” a release stated.

Preston's team consisted of Ethan Hunt, Grace Maxson, Olivia Novak, Darcy Banicky, Leah Neu, Sophia Schaffer and Audra Stinavage. The team is led by coaches Greag Adams and Don Burchell.

According to a release, preparation for the tournament began in the fall. 700 students in the Northeast Pennsylvania Region alone worked diligently to create solutions to myriad problems involving various types of specialization. Some of the problems required theatrical solutions, some engineering, and others included elements of robotics.

Coaches are not allowed to participate in the planning or design of the solution, merely to supervise construction and monitor for safety, Adams and Burchell explained. The solutions are entirely the students' work.

For Preston, their Ready, Set, Balsa, Build competition involved them creating a structure out of various lengths of balsa wood glued together. This build was tasked with holding as much weight as possible.

According to the description online, the problem states certain amounts and lengths necessary to use in the construction to score the most points. The students were not allowed to exceed the allotted limitations.

Preston's build and presentation were inspired by the final American Ninja Warrior course, Mount Midoriyama. Adams and Burchell said the team's build was able to hold 640 pounds and was awarded a bonus of 64 pounds before it critically failed at just over 700 pounds.

Adams and Burchell explained that the students had to perform a skit while adding the weight to the structure. This involved students creating an original structure from recycled materials while placing their weights and discussing the importance of making use of what resources are available.

The solution presentation was limited to eight minutes, but the coaches explained that once teams' presentations are done, if their builds still have not failed they are allowed to continue to stack weight until the build cracks— usually in some spectacular fashion that sends pieces skittering across the floor.

The students' victory is all the more impressive considering they took a slight penalty due to their build being .2 grams over the 15 gram weight limit. As a team, the students decided it was worth the penalty not to jeopardize the structural integrity of their build.

Both coaches admitted they were proud of the decision the team made and of the critical thinking process they took to get there.

As an added challenge, teams were also met with a new problem to solve on the spot on the day of the competition. The coaches explained the students were ushered into a separate room and tasked with solving a problem relying solely on quick thinking and good teamwork.

The team has just a few weeks to address any structural issues they found with their build and reassemble it before the state competition at the beginning of April.

Joining Preston at the state competition will be 13 teams from the Delaware Valley School District, six teams from Abington Heights School District, six from Pocono Mountain School District, and one team each from Lehigh Elementary, Lehighton Area High School, Nazareth Area Intermediate School and Notre Dame High School.

The top two winners at the state level will advance to the Worlds competition held in May at Michigan State University. According to a release, only eight teams from Northeastern Pennsylvania made it to that level of competition last year.

The entire Northeastern Pennsylvania region of Odyssey of the Mind is comprised of Bradford, Carbon, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Northampton, Pike, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties.