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Eight District 13 teams exhibit creativity in annual Odyssey of the Mind competition

By Beth Manley
Region 13 students competed in the Connecticut Odyssey of the Mind State Finals on March 27 in Bethel. Over 175 teams of five-seven students from all over Connecticut competed in five different problems, including eight teams from Region 13.

For those of you new to this program, Odyssey of the Mind is an international creative problem-solving program for students in grades K-12. The teams select one of six problems, newly created each year, in a vehicle category as well as a technical, a classical, a balsa structure-building and a performance problem. The teams work on these divergent problems, that is, problems that have more than one solution.

The Strong Middle School team came home with a bronze medal in the problem "Return to the Gift of Flight." Coach Bill Morris told us, "The team did well. It's been a long journey since John Lyman School with plenty of ups and downs, but they finally medaled!" This is how it happens for most teams, they work and try and just don't give up.

The team took on Return to the Gift of Flight where they needed to create several aircraft with different propulsion systems. Bill explained, "They developed a 'take-off' on Star Wars and pushed the limits in true Odyssey fashion. One aircraft was as simple as a balloon suspended in mid-air with a hair drier and another as complicated as a hover craft with a radio controlled car on top." Congratulations go to Jacob Burt, Nathaniel Weir, Ryan Gossart, Joe Ertle and Tim Morris for working on a short-handed team and bringing home the bronze medal.

While medals are nice to get, they are really the icing on a delicious, healthy cake that takes about five months to bake. Most of the benefit happens from working as a team from October to March on a problem that has more than one solution.

In choosing the problem "Food Court," Korn Elementary School, John Lyman Elementary School and Memorial Middle School teams had to create and present a humorous performance where a food item is accused of being unhealthy and must defend itself in front of a jury of its peers!

Anne Doyle, coach of the Korn team, told us, "The kids had such a blast and they were so proud of themselves. They overcame the fan noise (in the school) and shouted out their performance. From this whole experience, they gained teamwork the most. It's definitely carried into school. I've seen the quiet kids grow by leaps and bounds. They are more confident and feel part of this new family. Kids who used to take over in groups now try to include everyone. I can't say enough good things about it." Anne Doyle and her co-coach Deb Meriani coached Seamus Doyle, Stefan Marczuk, Zack Martwoski, Jason Datillo, Samantha Pietrzyk, Mazie Barrett and Olivia Pereira.

Last May, six members of a Division I balsa team had a vision: For Odyssey of the Mind in 2010, they would write a story about a baby bird and a baby snake. They would be orphaned by loggers and, in an unusual friendship, the snake would teach the bird to fly and the bird would teach the snake to slither. But here was the key: the team member dressed as the bird would actually fly.
When the team reconvened in October, returning team members Seth Azevedo (the perfect size for a snake), Emma Blair, Abby Blair, Kyle Borbas and Gunther Wallach were joined by new members Isabelle DeFilippo (the perfect size for a bird!) and Parker Tregoning.

Through the entire 10-month process, parents and coaches Carolyn Wallach and Greg Borbas could be heard on the sidelines: "Could this work? Could a team of sixth graders actually make someone fly?" It didn't seem possible, especially as competition day approached. Finally, on March 27,the team realized their vision. At the state championships, on the count of three, Gunther pulled the rope and Isabelle lifted into the air, a baby bird flying in the forest.

The team struggled with their column structures at competition and eventually came in fourth place, but when all was said and done, what mattered most was that they had a vision and turned it into reality: Isabelle flew!

The newest District 13 balsa team this year faced an incredibly difficult problem. Instead of building one structure, they were charged with building several well-balanced lightweight columns. For a new team, it can often take most of the first season to just get used to working with the glue and wood. Team members Tim Arcari, Garret Basiel, Joshua Fazzino, AJ Kleczkowski, Aidan O'Connell and Otto Wallach persevered, building column after column throughout the winter. When the time came to compete, they showed their columns to the judges, and learned that their columns were overweight by about 1.5 grams. The team was forced to make last minute changes, and they handled the pressure with the experience and confidence of a much older team. When they finally took to the gym floor, Otto and Tim placed weights on their sturdy, balanced structures, and Garret, Josh, AJ and Aidan entertained the judges and the audience with a diamond mine dance party.

A John Lyman team, coached by Maureen Morris, included several Odyssey siblings. Bridey Morris, Hannah Huddleston, Bailey Lettergren, Ryan Hocking, Charlotte Meigs, Kaitlin Gossart and Ivy Dione also chose Food Court and finished in sixth place.

An Odyssey alum, Henry Willis, a junior at Coginchaug, helped his mother, Annette Willis, coach his brother's Memorial Middle School team of Troy Willis, Thomas Koba, Scott Romeyn, Patrick Hocking, Melissa Grenier, Samuel Marteka and Mathew Woznyk. They placed fifth in Food Court.

Other Region 13 Odyssey alums came back to help this year. A teammate of Henry's from the third place World Finalist team a couple of years ago, David Bedding, also a junior at Coginchaug, came back to work in the scoring room.

Lora Manley, another junior, attended training in the balsa structure problem, "Column Structure," and was one of two judges who had actually competed in the problem. Most of our judges just imagine what it's like to be an Odyssey team; Henry, David and Lora know and so are fine role models for the younger students.

Ryan Manley, an Odyssey alum and CRHS and RPI graduate, also comes back every year to work the scoring room.

We had three teams in Column Structure this year. In this problem the team had to build columns, the more columns the more points, made out of balsa wood and glue. The judges determine the strongest structures by placing Olympic weights on them until they break. The two Memorial balsa teams came in fourth and fifth places in Division II. Mary-Jo Murphy coached the fifth place team of Gillian Murphy, Olivia Marran, Lilian Zhou, Abby Marran, Brianna VanEyndoven, Emily Houchin and Caitlin Sibiske.

Finally, we had a United Youth Fellowship team in the vehicle problem, "Nature Trail'R," Division II. Michael O'Keefe, Isabella O'Keefe, Patrick Holden, Devin Makara, Kia Boreland, Owen Tobin and Ben Wooding designed and built a vehicle to go on a camping trip, complete with a camper. Ana Maria O'Keefe and Pamela Wooding were the coaches for this team.

CTOM, Ct. Odyssey of the Mind, is a nearly completely volunteer-driven organization. Coaches, judges, even Board of Directors, are all volunteers who give of themselves to make sure that the students in Connecticut have this wonderful opportunity. Each of the teams, including the Region 13 teams, has a coach and must also provide a judge who is trained and then judges in the competition. It is truly a community effort that makes this possible.

I would like to thank all of the coaches listed above for supervising their young teams since October. Our coaches' job is different than a typical coach -- in Odyssey all the work, all the ideas, the designs, and every line in the skit must come from the team of students. It takes the pressure off coaches, as the kids have to be the creative ones!

I would also like to thank our judges this year, who gave up two Saturdays to train and judge our 175 Connecticut teams. In Region 13, our judges were Elizabeth Azevedo, Daniel Shoemaker, Richard Meskill, Ryan Manley, Diana Varese, Claudia O'Connell and Lucy Meigs.

Region 13 is well represented in the volunteer ranks of Odyssey. Our Scoring Captain is John Manley. Beth Manley, Jill Riggles, Chris LaVigne and Paula Bedding serve on the Board of Directors of Connecticut Odyssey of the Mind.

If you think maybe your child might enjoy the Odyssey experience, feel free to ask anyone listed here for more details. We love Odyssey! And we'll have an Odyssey Information Night on Sept. 21, 2010 at John Lyman School at 7 pm. New students, coaches and volunteers are always welcome!

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