Dear Coaches,

Here we are -- spring. It's about now that you find yourself sitting down in your kitchen, elbows on the table, hands clasped on your cheeks, you are staring at the calendar, and you finally come to this realization and say out loud (to no one in particular, except perhaps your dog), "Oh snap! We only have a few weeks until competition and there's just no way they are going to be ready!" At this point, you take your hand, put it on top of your head, grab a handful of hair, and give it a good yank.

It's at this time that in the back of your mind, questions start to emerge. Why did I agree to do this? Is this even close to worth all the time and work I'm putting into it? Are the kids even getting anything out of this?

Well, I'm writing this to remind you of some things you really already know, but are finding difficult to believe at the moment.

Yes, this is worth your time and effort, and yes, the kids are getting something very valuable out of this... and now I'm going to prove it to you. Below is an essay written by Colton Flick. He wrote this to include in his admission application to college.

"Odyssey of the Mind is a creative problem solving competition reminiscent of what might happen if you were to throw theater, visual art, creative writing, legal loophole-ing, and a healthy dose of winging it into a blender, and, on a whim, hit "puree'. It is an absolutely beautiful thing.

I began in fifth grade. I started a team at my elementary school. We failed miserably in competition -- second to last, at the regional level -- and we had a glorious time doing it.

An Odyssey solution might have a crazed Captain Ahab dragging a few unwilling tourists along for the ride as he hunts down Moby Dick. That's pretty good, but for full Odyssey effect, we're going to need at least one musical number, some conspiracy theory jokes, and a giant puppet or two. Now we're getting somewhere.

After this, you have a spontaneous problem, or, as I like to call it, Winging It: The Game. Spontaneous problems give you a simple task, which you must complete as thoroughly and creatively as possible within the time allotted.

These are the concrete and factual details of how Odyssey works. It's certainly a fun program. But this alone is not what keeps me coming back over and over, working my way from second to last to seventh worldwide. There's something to Odyssey that I'm not sure I can convey in text.

There's a rush and a feeling that comes with being in a college stadium with 8,000 other kids screaming for your state and knowing that if you were to make an oh-so-witty Faulkner reference right now, they may groan, but they would certainly get it. My language can't describe this. I'm not sure any can, really, but they can try.

There is a Danish word, "Hyggelig." It is often translated woefully inadequately as "warmth'. That's not really what it means, though. It's a metaphorical sort of warmth. It's the kind of warmth you feel at two in the morning when you know you are the last people awake in the hotel and you're 300 miles from home playing a game.

It's the kind of warmth you feel when, all of a sudden, your teammate turns to you to say that no matter where we placed, this was all totally worth it. It's the kind of warmth you feel when you've spent three hours angrily paper mache-ing a six-foot-tall whale tooth and you finally get to kick back and say to each other, "that is the single best oversized aquatic incisor you have ever seen.' And it's the kind of warmth that keeps me coming back to Odyssey."

Coaches, finally, trust me when I say this. When teams perform at their competition, they are going to do a better job than you ever thought they could. They might not --and probably won't -- win first place. But they are going to have learned something and gained some experience they could not have gotten anywhere else. If you don't believe me, just ask Colton.

~ Submitted by Randy Burton, NC.
~ Essay by Colton Flick, NC.