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Saturday, March 20, 2004

Two minutes to think, eight minutes to respond. And eleven years to remember.
During sophomore year of high school, a friend wanted to organize a team to participate in Odyssey of the Mind, a sort of academic/creativity competition. He asked me to join, and having nothing else better to do with my time, I figured why the hell not. Our team met a few times a week after school for a few months to work on our project (designing a way to have a chain-reaction involving eight different types of events by the simple dropping of a ball to start it all). We placed 1st in the regional competition, qualifying us for the state competition being held at William & Mary. We worked for another month, and then we placed 1st at the state competition, qualifying us for the OM World Finals which were held in Boulder, CO, that year. At World's, we placed 16th out of 48, but the real thrill was having a free weeklong trip to Colorado and getting to miss a week of school.

In 11th grade, we decided again to compete. Hopes were running high, and we were confident about taking another regional title. But, we had a rough start. The team was quickly bogged down by in-fighting and a struggle of visions and egos. At a secret meeting in October of 1992, four of us decided that there was only one viable solution. Two days later we kicked off the team the very same person who had organized the team the year before. You could say that we were drunk on power, and we'd lost the true vision of what OM was about. Or you could say that we were completely pathetic taking the measure of kicking someone off an OM team. But at the time, it just made sense. And in retrospect, it's a good thing that despite all our best efforts to the contrary, the guy was relatively mentally stable and didn't have access to firearms.

We worked harder and longer hours that year, determined to repeat as regional champions. I still didn't really have anything else better to do with my time. At the regional competition, we clearly had the best project (the "problem" was to design a vehicle powered by a mechanical jack, and you got points for the number of laps completed in a given time plus style points). But there is also a "spontaneous" competition where you go into a room, and you are given a task to work on. Usually, you would have two minutes to discuss the problem with your team, and then eight minutes to respond. Because of a poorly worded problem description and a hostile group of judges, we approached the task incorrectly, and the result was that we got few points for that portion of the competition. Consequently, we ended up only placing 2nd, ending our dreams of another run at the state championship.

The team dissolved shortly after the regional competition. None of us were ever quite the same. Ryan spiraled into his own private hell suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. He washed his hands until they bled. Kristi started turning tricks downtown on Salem Avenue. This was an even sadder tale because she couldn't make any money, and she had to get a job at the mall. Scott B just one day wandered off into the woods mumbling "We meet again, Dr.Jones." Brent emerged relatively unscathed since he hadn't been on the team the year before, so he hadn't drunk the sweet nectar of OM victory. I'm not exactly sure what happened to Scott C, last I heard he was directing snuff films in the O.C. As for me, I was holed-up in a cheap Roanoke motel for six weeks that summer, and the only people that I had any contact with were the pizza delivery guy, and my dealer who would come by every other day until I couldn't even pay him for a bottle of aspirin. If it hadn't been for Sharon Osbourne, I probably would have died.

That day when we lost our innocence was eleven years ago today. We will never forget.

(Note: This is based on actual events, and some liberties have been taken with certain facts....though we really did kick someone off an OM team, sadly that part is true.)

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