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450 students compete in Odyssey

Volunteer coaches are key component to the program

TRAVERSE CITY -- Graduation to Jolinda LePan comes with a sad price: ending her Odyssey of the Mind participation.

After participating almost annually on a team, the Manton High School senior has gained skills, friendships and memories to last a lifetime.

LePan and her six teammates from the school's Team B were among 63 teams and 450 students in grades K-12 competing Saturday at the Michigan Odyssey of the Mind Region 3 Tournament.

As they waited to present their solution to the Food Court long-term problem, the well-oiled team reflected the closeness and creativity that ground their success. These qualities form after months and years of working together.

Saying goodbye will be hard.

"I'm not looking forward to graduating and not being able to do it again," LePan said. "I missed one year in junior high and I was like, 'I have to get back.'"

Team B is one of five Odyssey of the Mind teams fielded this year by the Manton district, which has built a culture of success.

"We had a team graduate last year and they went to worlds five years in a row," said Preston Taylor, a senior.

The Region 3 tournament showcased participating teams' months of brainstorming, hard work and out-of-the-box thinking. Traverse City East Middle School hummed with activity from the first early-morning Spontaneous problem to the high-energy awards finale that evening. Winning teams progress to the Odyssey of the Mind state finals scheduled for mid-April in Grand Rapids. World finals will be held in May at Michigan State University.

In addition to Food Court, the other long-term problems for this year were Nature Trail'R, Return to the Gift of Flight, Discovered Treasures and Column Structure. Each team selects one problem to solve. The Primary division for grades K-2 all presented a solution to the problem Surprise Party.

"They give you a vague outline and just say, 'Go!'" said Emily Williams, a Manton senior, of the long-term problems.

Both by honing their Spontaneous skills and working together on their selected long-term problem, Odyssey of the Mind team members are ready to tackle anything.

"We are training these kids to do this stuff and later on, if they have a boss who asks for something, an OMer will raise their hand and say, 'I will, I can,'" said Jamie Wheelock, Michigan Region 3 director.

A hundred volunteers helped manage the tournament's countless logistics and details. In addition, approximately 80 judges evaluated and scored teams.

"You can't do a tournament like this without these volunteers," Wheelock said.

Volunteer coaches are a key component to the program, shepherding their team through months of meetings while keeping their ideas to themselves.

Karyn Thorr coached a six-member Frankfort Elementary School team for the second year. Despite the long hours and stress of meeting a deadline around students' many other commitments, she praises the teamwork and problem-solving skills that participants gain.

"It's intense, you feel the pressure build," she said of meetings, which began in December and peaked at six days a week leading up to the regional tournament. "You get hooked."

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