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Penn Hills

Penn Hills High's Odyssey of the Mind team prepares for trip to World Finals

Samson X Horne
| Sunday, May 14, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Members of the Penn Hills Odyssey of the Mind Team are preparing for a trip to a world final competition later this month. From left are Jacob Russell, Katie Holler, Azure Johnson-Payne, Sarah Salego, Haley Then and Bri Kulwik. Team captain Emily White is not pictured.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune-Review
Members of the Penn Hills Odyssey of the Mind Team are preparing for a trip to a world final competition later this month. From left are Jacob Russell, Katie Holler, Azure Johnson-Payne, Sarah Salego, Haley Then and Bri Kulwik. Team captain Emily White is not pictured.

A Penn Hills High School academic squad has earned a spot at an international tournament at Michigan State University next weekend.

After attending next Thursday's prom, the Odyssey of the Mind team — seniors Emily White, Bri Kulwik, Azure Johnson-Payne, Haley Then, Katie Holler, Jacob Russell and junior Sarah Salego — will head to East Lansing, Mich., early on May 26 to compete against teams from Japan, Russia, Poland and a couple of African nations in challenges requiring participants to use unconventional methods to solve problems.

“You don't really have an idea what's going to be asked. You really have to think on your feet,” said Russell, who is also a member of Penn Hills Junior ROTC.

The World Finals competition is judged from a two-part test. In the first part, students have eight minutes to solve a long-term problem whose solution requires them to perform a skit. That's followed by an unstructured segment calling for creative handling of issues presented by judges.

Students are not allowed to communicate with coaches or family members during the contest.

Bill Nimick, association director of Pennsylvania Odyssey of the Mind, said the students have to “own all the work” to display their unique creativity for problem-solving.

“All work has to be conceived by the kids,” Nimick said.

Team members used their respective attributes to create a lineup that won both the regional and state competition; their other extracurricular activities include playing for the school's sports teams, chorus, band, student council and having jobs.

“Sometimes it's hard to balance,” Kulwik said.

The team said its camaraderie outside of Odyssey of the Mind helps them during preparation for performances.

“We're all friends outside of Odyssey. We made it a point that we'd get (to the world tournament) this year,” Kulwik said.

That helped when the team faced adversity.

There have been times when props for the skit haven't worked as planned. At the regional competition a light wouldn't turn on for a scene and a door wouldn't lift during a skit, but the team pushed on.

“We rehearse so much that it seems second nature, but we don't know if our stuff is going to work the day of,” Johnson-Payne said.

Now, the problem is figuring out how to finance the trip.

The team is seeking funding to assist with travel. Teachers in the Penn Hills School District donated more than $800 during a “dress-down” day, and a sponsor fronted the $3,000 registration fee.

They have raised $1,000 and are seeking $4,000 more to repay the sponsor and fund the remainder of the expenses.

To chip away at the goal, the team has passed out fliers, posted requests for funding on social media and held an ice cream social. Last Thursday, they partnered with Rita's Italian Ice to receive 10 percent of sales. And a fundraising page has been set up at gofundme.com/SUPPORT-PHOdyssey-Team-2017.

“We've already gotten more than we thought we would, and just grateful for whatever we get,” Then said.

Samson X Horne is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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