ODYSSEY INSPIRATION

"Problem solving is a skill that lasts a lifetime and is one of the best lessons teachers can share with their students."

A team from the Burton School District in California has been receiving accolades for combining its creative problem- solving skills with public service. Over the past years, they've helped numerous friends and classmates overcome physical disabilities through their inventions. The team has helped them achieve dreams such as being part of marching band, playing the drums, or even completing simple tasks like writing with ease. Behind this generous and inspiring team is a seasoned coach who knows the importance of letting teams triumph over their mistakes in order to become great problem-solvers.

Todd "Hoss" McNutt has coached 53 teams over the past 30 years and has learned just as many important lessons through OotM as his teams have learned from him. He cites one World Finals as helping him to fully comprehend the meaning of OotM. His team became fast friends with the first Chinese WF team -- without allowing language and cultural barriers to become a hindrance. Teams quickly began to trade pins, play games, and invent their own language that he calls OMEReese.

"I have never seen such joy and laughter before -- those kids were alive with Odyssey of the Mind spirit." They also supported each other throughout competition, helping to move props and cheering for each other during the Awards Ceremony. "Until you see teenagers from rural California crying tears of joy because of the success of new friends from China, you just can't fully understand what Odyssey is all about," said McNutt.

Another eye-opening experience was in witnessing a team rise above great obstacles when their machine for The Mail Must Go Through caught fire two days before a competition. He said, "It looked like a toaster going through a car wash."

McNutt witnessed his team rally together to recreate a miniature forklift that had previously taken them months to build. He found inspiration from seeing the students "become a true team." He also found recognition from those same students years later when they told him how that experience helped them face other projects gone bad. They remembered the forklift fire and said, "If I could overcome that disaster, I can solve this problem."

McNutt's advice to new coaches stems from this experience. "Please understand that it's okay if the kids have disasters and problems. Be there for support, but don't solve the problem for them. When they do solve the problem they will be empowered for life with the attitude -- I may not understand how to do it YET, but I will," he said.

It is this attitude that gives McNutt great satisfaction. "I've had students that didn't believe they were smart enough to go to college. After being in OotM, they realized that no one can stop them from achieving what they want. It is always a special moment when they get accepted to college or get the job they wanted and they come and tell me. The pride in their voice and that glow of success makes the work worthwhile. As a coach, the greatest victories in Odyssey of the Mind sometimes occur years after the competition. Problem solving is a skill that lasts a lifetime and is one of the best lessons teachers can share with their students," he said.

Aside from coaching, McNutt teaches robotics and a problem-solving class that uses Odyssey methods. He's been active in boy scouts for 56 years, and was a scoutmaster for 37 years. He's taught for 30 years and plans on continuing to teach, "as long as kids keep showing up wanting to learn."