By Patrick Donachie
Students from Middle School 74 in Oakland Gardens are poised to compete at the championships of an international intellectual competition and are trying to raise funds to pay for the journey.
The group of seven students are participating in Odyssey of the Mind, a creative problem-solving competition. Students from kindergarten through college compete every year. Founded in 1978, the competition now attracts students from around the country and the globe.
Richard Getzel, a math teacher at MS 74, has coached the Odyssey of the Mind team for the past three years. Getzel’s team won second place at the competition’s state finals in Binghamton April 2. In doing so, they secured a slot at Odyssey’s world finals at Iowa State University in Ames, IA, May 25 through May 28. Teams from all 50 states and from 70 countries around the world will be competing.
It would only be the second time in the history of the competition that Queens would be represented at the world finals, according to Getzel. A team of students from Public School 213 competed in 2013, and some of those students are now on the MS 74 team. Getzel said the students had worked hard to achieve their success.
“The kids stay after school twice a week for about five hours a week. They’ve come to school three hours every Saturday since the beginning of the year. It’s an incredible time commitment,” he said. “It’s helped them become fearless in terms of public speaking. It’s fostered creativity and given them a chance to work creatively with other people.”
The competition is split into several different categories incorporating the sciences and the humanities, and Getzel’s team is trying its hand at the “Furs, Fins, Feathers and Friends” problem. The team must “create and present a humorous performance depicting problem solving from the perspective of three different animals. The animals will help a stranger, help each other, and solve a problem that threatens the survival of all animals,” according to Odyssey’s website.
Getzel said the performance was created entirely by the students, including set design and dance choreography. Getzel also noted that Odyssey of the Mind was relatively unknown in New York City.
“It is huge in upstate New York and in many other parts of the country. There isn’t as much fanfare here surrounding it,” he said.
Getzel speculated that funding issues may impede city students from competing more often.
The MS 74 team is currently facing a shortfall in funding its trip to the finals. Getzel said the school had been supportive of the team’s endeavors, but MS 74 had no funds for a trip to Iowa for Getzel, the students or their chaperones. Getzel and the parents started a GoFundMe page to raise approximately $10,000 to cover the airfare, food and accommodations. Despite the gap, Getzel felt confident that the students would make it to Ames.
“We’re very hopeful and we’ll work our best to make sure we can go,” he said. “This is something they’ve worked towards for three years and for it to not be realized…it’s just not in the cards.”
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona