Seven groups of students from American military system schools in Germany and Belgium soon will match wits with thousands of their peers from more than 30 countries.

The “Odyssey of the Mind” world finals, hosted this year by the University of Maryland, feature one of the largest contingents from the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe in the event’s 29-year history. The event is held May 31-June 3.

Competitors have spent months working on projects. They’ll bring those to the event and participate in spontaneous competition as well, according to Jeanie McNamara, project coordinator for DODDS-Europe.

Though the projects and the nature of the competition is far from simple, McNamara sums up the general idea as “creative problem-solving.”

Four elementary school teams and three middle school teams earned the right to travel to the States by winning a regional competition in March in Bad Kissingen. The teams hail from SHAPE, Landstuhl, Geilenkirchen, Brussels, Garmisch and Spangdahlem.

Some, such as fifth-grader Marina Wright of Landstuhl Elementary School, have competed before.

“It’s really fun to get to know kids from different countries and different states,” she said of her memories of the competition two years ago. She was competing for Spangdahlem then.

The seven-member teams chose a problem to solve from one of five categories. Although adult coaches — either teachers or parents — are there for supervision, the kids had to plan a solution to the problem and then demonstrate it.

“I like working together as a team and acting in a play or a skit,” Marina Wright said.

Her mother, Sharon Wright, is the team’s coach.

“It’s really an incredible experience for the kids,” she said.

Garmisch’s team, made up of sixth- through eighth-graders, is competing for the first time.

“We decided it would be fun to try it,” said Chelsea Smithback, an eighth-grader. “It’s been really, really fun.”

She said the team has spent a lot of time working on its project.

“There’s no one in our group that we hate or dislike,” she said. “We all get along.”

Sixth-grader Chris Coffelt said his team’s project has been challenging.

“It’s so much fun planning all the stuff, writing the scripts, making the costumes and all the other stuff,” he said.

Coffelt admitted he “probably” would be nervous acting out his group’s presentation in front of an auditorium full of strangers. But he didn’t appear to be too concerned about it.

“This contest requires a lot of imagination,” said Dorry Hummer, who teaches art and gifted students at Garmisch. “It surprises me what they come up with.”

McNamara said students from 36 countries are supposed to participate in the event. A news release issued by the university predicted about 7,000 students, teachers and parents would attend.

Smithback said her team has an ambitious goal.

“We want to put Garmisch on the map,” she said, laughing.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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