Friday, April 25, 2014

TOP STORY >> Team collecting funds for trip

Leader staff writer

Sylvan Hills Middle School’s Odyssey of the Mind students hope that people passing a painted porcelain throne will send them to the world finals at Iowa State University in May.

The team’s “the not-so haunted house” skit won first place at the regional competition and second place out of 40 teams in their division at the state competition.

Now the students are using a unique fundraiser to go even further.

Parent volunteer Marla Williamson and others are delivering three decorated toilets to area yards and asking “victims” to pay a $30 ransom to send the one they receive elsewhere. Instructions are left on their front doors.

The team’s fundraising goal is $11,694.

The Pulaski County Special School District will provide $3,000 of that, Williamson said. The team has collected $2,500 from the toilet gag and other fundraisers.

While the pranksters are requesting $30 donations, they will take any or no donation to remove the unsolicited lawn ornament.

“Victims” are encouraged to pass the toilet to their good-humored “dearest friends…or enemies,” according to the instructions.

Williamson said, “People have so much fun with it.”

A tax donation receipt is left in the mailboxes of the “victims” who decide to donate.

So far, the toilet has landed on the lawns of SHMS principal Jo Wilcox, Sherwood Police Chief Jim Bedwell, former city council members Becki Vassar and Butch Davis and council members Marina Brooks, Ken Keplinger, Charles Harmon and Mike Sanders.

For more information about how to participate in the fundraiser, call Williamson at 501-313-8264 or Odyssey coach James Wilson at 501-765-8571.

Another fundraiser for the team will be held on Saturday, May 10 at Tractor Supply Company. The team will sell hot dogs and hamburgers from a booth there.

Sponsored by NASA, the Odyssey of the Mind program aims to teach school-age children problem solving, creative thinking and teamwork. “They have to think around (problems), think outside the box,” Williamson explained.

The students learn to work together too, she continued. “They’re very, very cohesive…(They find out that), if one person bails out, everyone else is left hanging.”

Odyssey teams are given five ideas for skits every year. After that, Williamson said, “Absolutely everything is done by the children.”

During the competitions, coaches and any adults involved are prohibited from helping the teams. They can’t carry the set in or correct the students in any way, she added.

The kids write their scripts, design their costumes, build their sets and create their props.

The SHMS team members are eighth-grader Alisha Henderson, eighth-grader Emily Massey, sixth-grader Khadijah Khalia, eighth-grader Emily Williamson (Marla Williamson’s daughter), sixth-grader Tori Taylor, sixth-grader D’vaunte’ Dubois and seventh-grader Chase Wilson.

They enjoy Odyssey of the Mind for a variety of reasons.

Henderson said she likes meeting students in other grades.

Massey said, “You get to be creative and meet new people.”

Khalia said, “The reason why I love Odyssey of the Mind is because it gives me a chance to open my mind and share ideas, even though many people say I’m crazy, I get to show them how crazy I can be.”

Emily Williamson said, “I love building the sets. You can be as creative as you want to be.” She shared that the team helped her socialize with other age groups, too. “This team is more like a dysfunctional family,” Williamson said.

Taylor said she likes Odyssey of the Mind because “I think acting is really fun, and I’m really creative.”

Dubois said he enjoys being on the team too. “I just like that I get to speak my mind, that it’s basically somewhere I can be me.”

Wilson said he likes making the costumes. “It lets out your creative mindset. You can put it on the costumes or the sets,” he said.

This year, the team’s idea was “the not so haunted house.”

In the skit that will be performed at the world finals, a cousin of Hansel and Gretal visits the gingerbread house after the witch from the fairy tale is killed.

But, instead of an empty abode with food to gather for her family, cousin Freita finds that the witch’s sister and candy people live there now. Taylor stars as Freita, and Khalia is the new witch.

Freita and the witch strike a bargain. Freita claims she can prove the witch is not entirely evil. The witch argues that she will scare Freita. The witch says the girl will never find proof that she has a heart.

Before the end of the timed skit, a mirror lights up to show a spooky face and a closet opens to reveal the (plastic) bones of children the witch has eaten.

If the witch wins the bet, she can cook Freita into a cherry pie using her oven.

The cousin ends up a little crispy before she finds the witch’s heart and turns it from black to red. The witch lets Freita go.

Then the audience finds out that the entire scenario was a candy person’s dream.

In addition to the skits, the competitions include spontaneous hands-on, verbal or a combination of both. The students are given an idea and perform a skit right then and there.