Odyssey of the Mind

                As Linda directed students to the stage at Michigan State, “This big ole guy came running straight for me. He ran up to me, picked me up and slung me around saying, ‘It works! That magic penny really works.’ The Magic Penny is the one penny investment I made every year for each of the 700 some students that went to the Odyssey of the Mind finals.”

             Linda Partridge began volunteering with Odyssey of the Mind teams when the team at South Side School in El Dorado invited her son, a second grader, to join the team. He is now 42.

             “I knew nothing about it,” she recalled. “That first year I didn’t know what it was, and the next year I was teaching it. I have been in the program ever since, in different degrees ever since.”

             “I have been a judge at finals for over 20 years. For me, that is like being on the playground for three days,” Linda said with an energetic smile.

             Odyssey of the Mind involves teams of students from early elementary grades through to college. “There are three parts,” she explained. The organization out of New Jersey issues five problems a year dealing with certain interests. Teams develop a skit around the theme. They receive a list of items that must be included in the skit. To avoid losing points, skits are eight minutes or less.

The rules also include a mandate that “teams may not spend more than $100 on the skit,” she said. To save costs and acquire equipment, Linda took kids dumpster diving for cups at a fast food restaurant.

            In one portion of the competition, students leave coaches and parents and are given a problem to solve without adult help. The judges look for creativity and thinking outside the box.

         Students learn functional fitness. Linda held up a pen and said, “You say, a pen, but…” she pointed the pen at a tree. “Now the pen is an extender, a pointer.”

“At competitions all teams solve the same problem and may not discuss the problem with others until it is over for everyone.”

Judgers also assess style for the final score.

On the world competition level, Linda verified students’ paperwork. “I also had to make sure students calmed down.” One way she calmed students was to deflect their thoughts. She wore a tiara and tu-tu to welcome a late-arriving team. One little girl admired her. A little boy smiled up at her saying, “you smell good.”

Every year she uses a technique called “magic pennies.” Linda came to competition with a penny for each of the 700 participants. She marked each penny with OM, the year and the problem number.

Linda showed the students how to press the heel of one hand tightly into the other palm with the penny between. “I told them ‘this is a magic penny and to press all their tension into that magic penny.’ It generally works,” she said. The fully grown student who picked Linda up was celebrating his magic penny.

         “The kids have a good time and can’t wait for the closing ceremonies. They have worked hard. Most leave feeling relaxed and good about themselves and that they have been treated fairly. For kids who perhaps do not do well at sports, it is a way to succeed. I’ve coached and been a mom. They could be doing a lot worse.”

Even in retirement, Linda continues to serve with OM, helping plan and organize. She  hopes that she will see its renewal as the impacts of Covid lift and kids can once again get together and share the fun of learning, solving and competing together.

About jottingjoan

retired former newspaper writer. Many children and grandchildren. One husband.
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