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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 5, 2008

Way to Gogh!
Voorheesville fifth-graders follow their muse to succeed in world competition

By Andrew Schotz

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Some of Voorheesville’s young thinkers took on the world this week in Maryland.

Fifth-graders from Voorheesville Elementary School performed a fictional mini-play they created about how a mythical Muse and a talking sea star might have inspired Dutchman Vincent van Gogh to paint his famous “Starry Night.”

The seven students earned their spot in Odyssey of the Mind’s world championship tournament by qualifying in state and regional competitions in New York.

At the University of Maryland on Sunday, the Voorheesville team put on their show again, in front of a judging panel and a roomful of rapt parents, including their coach.

The next morning, also on campus, the students gathered privately for an impromptu test, this one closed to the public.

Voorheesville is one of three teams tied for ninth place out of 51 teams in its division, according to the Odyssey of the Mind website. A team from Poland had the best score. Eight hundred teams participated in 19 divisions.

Sitting together outside on the grass after their Sunday performance, members of the team said they were generally happy with their work, although they didn’t consider it their best.

“Better than regionals; not as good as states,” said Matt Feller. His character was Sola, a star whose presence in the sky was orchestrated to have an effect on van Gogh.

Braeden Morrison played another star, whose name was Luna.

Braeden said his drawing of a muse that looked like a star helped the team decide what routine it wanted to do.

The star image led the team to pick Urania, the Muse of astronomy and astrology. From there, team members looked for an artist whose work tied in with the stars.

Lydia Parker played Urania. Wolfie Gehring portrayed van Gogh.

Another requirement of the performance was having a newly-created character make a positive contribution. The students thought up Stellar the sea star, played by Sarah Murray, whose contribution was predicting van Gogh’s future.

Alex Relyea was Claudia the surfer girl, who persuaded van Gogh to go to the beach. The swirls of the water gave him the idea for the swirls in the sky, according to the students’ story.

Playing a top-hatted man from one of van Gogh’s earlier works, Ben Mackay also played the flute during the show.

The students said the main idea of their performance was to show how a series of events, largely through Urania’s doing, led van Gogh to move away from darker images and toward the more vibrant “Starry Night.”

The troupe ran into some difficulties in Maryland.

Their coach, Jean Mackay, Ben’s mother, said they had a large stage at the regional competition at Mohonasen, then a smaller one at the state competition at Binghamton University. The University of Maryland stage was smaller still, creating congestion on the set.

Afterward, students also dissected events leading to a small flub during the show. Letters they held up on sticks were supposed to answer a question as “Y E S !” but they went up in the wrong order.

Regardless, team members said their time at the championship competition, staying on campus, was fun. Trading pins, like Olympic athletes do, was a hit.

And, just like the Olympics, Odyssey of the Mind was worldly. The website for the competition says more than 20 foreign countries compete. The team that performed before Voorheesville on Sunday was from South Korea.

A team from Singapore was matched with Voorheesville as a “buddy,” which meant they spent time together and exchanged gifts. Voorheesville team members said the package they were giving included scrapbooks about their community, T-shirts from their school, “I Love New York” pins, and glow sticks.

Ben Mackay said he enjoys Odyssey of the Mind competitions because it gives young people a chance to solve problems on their own, without relying on adults.

Braeden said he likes being judged on his creativity, rather than athletic prowess.

Sarah said team members know they can rely on each other.

The elementary school team was one of two from Voorheesville that went to the state championship. The other was made up of students in fourth through eighth grade. The elementary team was the first to represent Voorheesville Central School District at the world championship.

Besides their qualifying performances, the elementary team needed the community’s financial support to go to Maryland, said Jean Mackay, the team’s coach.

It cost about $6,000 for the students and parents to make the trip. Mackay said the school board contributed $2,500. The Voorheesville School & Community Foundation also gave $2,500, half of which had to be matched through fund-raising.

Mackay said the dates of the qualifying events didn’t leave much time to raise money for the world championship. One fund-raiser was a bake sale that netted close to $1,000, she said.

Andrew Schotz, a former Enterprise reporter and editor, writes for a daily newspaper in Maryland.

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