Odyssey of the Mind Separates Into Two Organizations

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A legal settlement over Odyssey of the Mind, one of the nation's most popular academic competitions, has split the creative problem-solving contest into two separate and competing organizations.

The two companies that once combined to produce the competitions agreed to end their court battle and keep the tournaments alive for roughly 500,000 students each year.

Creative Competitions Inc., a for-profit educational publishing company in Gloucester City, N.J., developed materials for the contests. A nonprofit company, the OM Association in Glassboro, N.J., ran the tournaments.

For More Information

More information about Destination Imagination is available by calling (856) 881-1603; Odyssey of the Mind and Creative Competitions can be reached at (856) 456-7776.

The disagreement centered around whether Odyssey of the Mind should be governed by a for-profit or nonprofit group, and eventually turned into a power struggle that threatened the well-being of the 21-year-old enterprise.

"In the end, it came down to realizing the program would die," said Sammy W. Micklus, the president of Creative Competitions.

Most of the board members who govern the OM Association were representatives of Creative Competitions. The board chairwoman for many years was Carole Micklus, the wife of Odyssey of the Mind co-founder Sam Micklus and the mother of Sammy W. Micklus.

But in 1997, others on the nonprofit board raised questions that resulted in a lawsuit filed that year over the makeup of the board. "It was just really, really ugly," Sammy Micklus said last week.

Choosing Sides

The Sept. 24 settlement essentially creates two new entities: the nonprofit OM Association and the for-profit Creative Competitions.

The OM Association will administer a new but similar creative tournament called Destination ImagiNation, created during the legal battle by former Odyssey of the Mind volunteers who feared the old program would die. The partnership was to receive final approval this week at a meeting in Chicago.

Creative Competitions will keep the name Odyssey of the Mind and continue to offer the familiar tournaments.

For many educators, parents, and students, the settlement will mean choosing sides.

Rita Sleeman, who has worked with Odyssey of the Mind in Traverse City, Mich., schools for 20 years as a school employee and mother, said she'll stick with the original. She said she respects Creative Competitions and isn't bothered that it seeks to make a profit.

"They deliver a superior product and the support that's needed," Ms. Sleeman said last week. "They know what they're doing because they have this experience level behind them.

"It's just too bad all this happened," she added. "At the grassroots, it's caused a lot of confusion."

Already, though, Destination ImagiNation is the choice of state boards governing competitions in Colorado, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Bob Purifico, the executive director of the OM Association, said groups that have chosen Destination ImagiNation have done so because they preferred its nonprofit status.

Challenging Students

Odyssey of the Mind began in 1978 under the name Olympics of the Mind. In the competitions, teams of students are given short-term problems, such as asking them to make creative remarks about an object on a table.

More complex, long-term problems are posed, too. Some are verbal, such as requiring students to perform a skit using a variety of terms and themes. The best are often wild and funny. A math-based contest might require youngsters to design and build tiny balsa-wood structures that can withstand hundreds of pounds.

The new competitions put on by Destination ImagiNation will be similar, but supporters say it will be a little more spontaneous than Odyssey of the Mind. For instance, students might be handed a last-second prop to use creatively in their skit.

"It is very different from OM in many ways, although at first glance people will not see the differences," said Patricia F. Schoonover, the president of Destination ImagiNation. She helped start the new contest when volunteers began to fear there would be no competition at all this year.

Creative Competitions charges $135 for the first team at a school to sign up; the OM Association charges $100. Team sizes vary, and fees decrease as more teams sign up at each school.

Vol. 19, Issue 7, Page 6

Published in Print: October 13, 1999, as Odyssey of the Mind Separates Into Two Organizations
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