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Corunna, New Lothrop Odyssey of the Mind teams to compete in world finals

By ART BUKOWSKI Argus-Press Staff Writer
Saturday, April 21, 2007 11:20 PM EDT

When New Lothrop's team was declared the winner at the Odyssey of the Mind world finals last year, team members were seated about as far from the stage as they could be.

Although it was long run to the stage - the winners were announced inside a large stadium at Iowa State University, where the finals took place - the team certainly didn't mind having to make the trip.

"It was a very enjoyable run," said Shauna Henige, a junior at New Lothrop High School. "I want to do it again."

New Lothrop will defend its title at this year's world finals, scheduled for May 23-26 at Michigan State University. Although hundreds of student teams from across the nation and around the world will be there, New Lothrop will face stiff competition from neighboring Corunna, which also qualified for the finals.

At its core, Odyssey of the Mind is essentially about problem-solving. Teams choose at least one of five problems at the beginning of the school year and craft a solution, showcasing the solution at regional and state competitions on the way to the world finals at the end of the year.

The problems are not conventional or simple - both Corunna and New Lothrop selected a problem in which they were required to design, build and operate a small vehicle that makes trips and gets tagged by a tagging device, which also must be created - and the solutions are infinitely customizable, with teams creating whole story lines to supplement them.

The team has no more than eight minutes to present the solution to judges, and the creativity of the story line can earn them extra points. New Lothrop, for example, crafted a complex tale involving comic-book style villains in a medieval setting, complete with a huge prop "Puppet King" and dragon.

When working on their solutions, students learn to think creatively, listen to others and develop skills they wouldn't have had much chance to learn elsewhere. They also learn to build a strong team by encouraging individual talents.

"We have our technical people, and we have our creative people," said Brianna Jones, a freshman at Corunna High School. "So we build (the solution), and then we make it look good."

Odyssey of the Mind coaches say the skills students master in the organization will benefit them throughout life.

"It really is a pleasure to see what the kids take from here out into the real world," said Corunna coach Judy Flynn.

The world finals have not been held in Michigan since Central Michigan University hosted the competition in 1987, said New Lothrop coach Diane Henige, and students are excited to have the event so close to home. Not having to travel a long distances with gigantic props is good enough, but the kids are most excited because the location should give Odyssey of the Mind some local exposure.

"I get asked all the time: 'What is Odyssey of the Mind?,'" said Corunna freshman Julieann Burns.

New Lothrop team member Chet Birchmeier hopes having the event so close will also give people an idea of how large and popular the organization - and the world finals - actually are.

"People who don't get to go to world finals and don't have any idea of how big it is can come and see," he said.

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