The odyssey continues for two Monroe-Woodbury sisters

| 22 Feb 2012 | 05:10

Five Monroe-Woodbury teams advance to statewide Odyssey of the Mind competition in Binghamton By Nancy Kriz CHESTER - It’s been an exciting odyssey for the Finnegan family over the last several months, and it’s not over yet. Last weekend, Nicole Finnegan, a seventh-grader at Monroe-Woodbury Middle School, and her sister Danielle, a fifth-grader at North Main Elementary, were among more than 100 Monroe-Woodbury students who were members of 14 teams taking part in the highly competitive regional finals for the 31st annual Odyssey of the Mind competition, held at Orange/Ulster BOCES in Goshen. Those teams spent hundreds of hours applying their creative and problem resolution skills to solving challenges ranging from building their own mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics. With 90 regional teams in contention, the competition tested the teams’ limitless bounds of energetic thinking. School officials have regularly called these competitors “academic athletes” because their intense practice and preparation in their quest for perfection rivals their sports playing peers. In the end, two Monroe-Woodbury high school teams, two from the middle school and one from North Main Elementary won first place medals and now advance to the state finals at SUNY Binghamton on Saturday, March 26. This year, the Chester residents have the distinction of being siblings who are members of different teams which both earned first place honors. “I just feel very blessed and very proud of them,” said their mother Beth Finnegan. “They supported each other with what they did. It’s beautiful thing, really. They’re passionate about this, and anything they’re passionate about, I’m going to back them up 100 percent.” Nicole is an Odyssey of the Mind - or OMER - veteran, having competed for three years, including two at the world level. She was overjoyed to see her little sister earn a place on the” Problem 3: Le Tour Guide” team and eventually win first place. “It makes me feel so happy,” said Nicole, age 12. “I’m someone she can look up to. I’ve always loved that big sister feeling. I’m really proud of her when she does stuff like this.” Throughout all of Nicole’s preparation, she never lost sight of wanting her sister to do well. “It was totally cool knowing she got first place,” said Nicole. “That’s all I cared about. But when I got first place, that was the icing on the cake. I’m so glad that we’re both going. She’s going to be sharing the experience I’ve been through.” Danielle, age 10, was equally happy to have her sister’s support and advice. “She went to worlds twice,” said Danielle. “It was just so fun to watch. All these years, I’ve watched my sister. I thought it was so cool to be thinking 'outside the box,’ just to think 'weird.’ She was so supportive. She knew I could try out and make it.” Nicole and her team addressed “Problem 5: Full Circle,” which required the team to create and present a humorous performance where something changes form or appearance at least three times and eventually undergoes a final change where it returns to its original form and appearance. The performance included a silly character, a serious character, a song plus dance, and a surprise ending. Their presentation focused on a pun involving a rock cycle. They created a “rock star” character - a member of a band — who would go through “geological” personality changes. To begin, the band - unified and together in its work - was sedimentary rock. But when the “rock star” singer became volatile and angry, he changed to hot, molten magma. However, when he cooled down and re-solidified with his band, he became an igneous rock. And when his relationships with others in his band became weathered and emotionally eroded, they all became sediment. In the end, when the rock star and his band made up and were together again, they returned to their original emotional state of well-being as sedimentary rock. Just like in real life. Nicole’s role was to play the band’s manager. As any good manager does, she had the task of “herding them in the right direction,” she said. Danielle’s team tackled “Problem 3: Le Tour Guide.” They created and presented an original performance where a classical character acted as a tour guide. The tour made three stops during the journey, including one that was a team-created location. And during the tour, inanimate object showed signs of life. Danielle played Amelia Bedelia, the protagonist and title character of a series of children’s books by Peggy Parish. Those stories involve Amelia repeatedly misunderstanding various commands of her employer by always taking figures of speech and various terminology literally, causing her to perform wrong actions with a comical effect. In her group’s performance, it was Amelia Bedelia’s birthday and her friends decided to plan surprise party for her. The first activity was going to be a scavenger hunt, but Danielle — aka Amelia—had to search for the items herself. The first item was Niagara Falls water. She took it literally and traveled to Niagara Falls to get the water instead of picking up a bottle of water labeled Niagara Falls water. While there, she meets a couple who thinks she’s a tour guide. The second item was an apple. She decided to go to New York City, also known as “The Big Apple,” because she thought she could find an apple there. It’s also there where she meets a cowboy and his son who think she’s a tour guide because she’s wandering around. The third item is a piece of cake. With the cowboy and his son now traveling with her, Danielle takes them to the team-created location named “Idiom Island ” because she interpreted “a piece of cake” to mean she had to find the idiom “a piece of cake.” And there, she meets someone who introduces her to Bob the Robot, who spits out the idiom “a piece of cake” when, in reality, all she needed to do was to find the actual piece of cake hidden in her back yard. “We both knew each other would do great,” said Danielle. “All that work paid off. We made it.” During the remaining days leading up state competition, the five teams are now reviewing judges’ comments and tweaking their performances to make them even better. For Nicole and Danielle, that means balancing school work and family life while immersing themselves in practice sessions with their teams. “My sister keeps reminding me to think 'weirder,’ think more 'outside the box,’” said Danielle. “Think what nobody else would. Make it even better. I tell her, “Keep putting all your effort into it. All that effort will pay off.’” With only nine days left until the state championships, Nicole guaranteed both teams will be focused on doing everything they can to win. “We will work our hardest and make the best use of our time,” she said. “Aiming isn’t enough. You have to go for it.”