LEWISTON — This story isn't about students winning; it's about two sixth-graders who didn't give up.
Montello Elementary School students Richard Clark and Evan Breton, 12, are being lauded for their bravery on a day they thought they wanted to forget.
On April 6, Clark and Breton were to compete in Odyssey of the Mind in Sanford, an annual competition where dozens of school teams from Maine and New Hampshire use creativity to solve problems.
The students' task was to write a script and act it out with robot costumes and props, along with music.
The Montello team of seven came up with a skit where robots had taken over the world and were celebrating at a robot party. At the end of the skit, one robot spun into a museum in the future. Clark and Breton explained that the robot who entered into the museum was there because humans had regained control of the world and created a robot exhibit.
Students were to meet their gifted and talented teacher Desiree Spaulding to go to Sanford on 6 a.m. Saturday. The team had already been told that some students couldn't make it, but four of them would definitely come.
But by 6 a.m., Clark and Breton were the only two there. Frantic phone calls yielded no more team members.
They huddled and discussed whether they should give up or soldier on.
“We decided we would make the best of it," Spaulding said. "Problem solving is the whole gist of the Odyssey of the Mind competition. They were going to write a new script and do the best they could.”
"I was feeling pretty nervous," Breton said. "It was scary.”
It would be tough, they said, to act out robots dancing at a party with only two people.
They also needed to set up props before their competition performance. With only two pairs of hands instead of seven, setting up the stage in their bulky robot costumes was challenging. Some of the props didn't stay.
“When the judges said 'start,' we were were still preparing,” Breton said.
“Then we forgot to turn on the music,” he said. When they tried to play the song on the iPod, “it wouldn't work,” he said.
The whole skit was based on music.
So there they were — standing still, in robot costumes, their props falling down behind them, in front of an audience of 100-plus people plus a panel of 11 judges.
“We just couldn't do anything, because it wasn't working,” Breton said. “I couldn't believe what was happening. It was just awful.”
Clark described it as his “worst nightmare.”
The boys ended their performance in tears — but the audience burst into applause, appreciative of their efforts, said Carl Bucciantini, the competition's head judge. Judges and others rushed to them to affirm their bravery, but the boys were devastated, he said.
Their teacher and parents were heartbroken. “We watched them do the best they could do,” Spaulding said. “The hardest part was they didn't know they needed to say they were done” as 100-plus people looked on.
Bucciantini, a technology integrator at the Auburn Middle School, described Clark and Breton as "incredibly brave” for persevering. He and others nominated the two students for the “OMER's Award,” an Odyssey honor given to individuals who exemplify the spirit of the competition, exhibiting exceptional skill and the ability to overcome adversity.
The boys won the award later that day during the closing ceremony, but weren't there to accept it.
Bucciantini sent the judges' remarks to Montello Principal Deborah Goding. On Monday morning, she read the comments over the loudspeaker.
“I'm very proud of them for persevering, knowing they were probably not going to pull it off but went forward with it,” Goding said.
Spaulding said she hopes the two students remember that it's good to try, and it's OK not to win. “As long as you give your best effort, people around you will appreciate that. I'd like to see that in more students. It's easy to give up.”
Clark, who'd like to become an athlete or architect, and Breton, who wants to become an engineer, are still feeling bad about Saturday, Spaulding said.
She hopes they'll soon realize what they did. “Bravery is when you're really scared, and you do something, anyway.”