Odyssey of the Mind competitors advance

Four local Odyssey of the Mind teams are headed to World competition in Michigan, the culmination of a long journey that began, for some, when they were in kindergarten.

That was the case for Connor Gross, a junior at Loyalsock Township High School, who joined his first OM team in kindergarten. At the time, he was part of the gifted program in the district and his teacher suggested he join the team.

“She suggested it would be a good avenue for him to explore using his talents,” said Jennifer Gross, Connor’s mom.

“It’s been amazing. He’s in AP courses. He takes honors classes. He pursues things that are outside of his comfort zone. He loves to build. He loves to challenge himself and I credit OM with a lot of that,” she said, speaking about the benefits her son has gained from OM.

“He has done so many things through OM and just challenged himself. This summer he’s attending the state School of Excellence and one of the things he has credited his acceptance into that is being in OM and finding ways to solve different challenges that come along,” she added.

Finding new ways to solve problems is the mainstay of the Odyssey of the Mind program. At the beginning of the school year, students form teams. They then choose problems and work together to find solutions in a creative way. The main objective is to teach participants to be problem solvers.

One of the problems is called performance, in which the teams have to use stage and drama elements in their solutions.

For Melanie Vail’s son Alex’s team at Cochran Primary School in the Williamsport Area School District, that meant they decided to be inside an ice cream parlor.

“They came up with the idea of being inside an ice cream parlor and having sodas and milk shakes originally be friends and the cherries decide that they want to separate the two so they can be the main dish in the ice cream parlor because they don’t want to just be a topping anymore,” Vail said.

Another problem available is vehicle, where “teams use unusual sources of energy and original engineering to create vehicles that often don’t look or move like a vehicle.”

When Spring Moore’s son, Cooper Gutberlet, was in kindergarten he actually was part of his brother’s

“Odyssey of the Mind is unique in that the problem you compete in is determined by the oldest person on your team. When Cooper was in kindergarten, my son Max, who went through the program from second grade until his senior year (and it) was going to be the only time they could compete together. So Max, as a senior, put Cooper, a kindergartener on his high school team and that team went to Worlds together,” Moore said.

She noted that the problem that year was the one pertaining to vehicles. The vehicle had to carry two people so her son decided that was the problem he would do with his little brother, because he doesn’t weigh much.

“Cooper played the younger version of his older brother, going back in time to get his kindergarten self to win on a game show, ‘Are you Smarter than a Kindergartener,'” she said.

“There’s no other program you could ever do something like that,” she stressed. “Odyssey of the Mind allows creativity all the way through and it’s totally unique in that way.”

Other categories teams can choose from are technical, classics, structure and a primary for students in k-2. There is also a spontaneous portion of the competitions, where students go into a room with the judges and are given the problems right on the spot.

Teams are judged on the uniqueness and creativity they bring to the problem.

“Each problem has a specific area that they’re judged on. If they have to have a certain character, whether or not they have that character and the quality of the performance of that character,” said Michelle Bartley, the OM coordinator at Loyalsock. Her daughter Elaina, who is in the eighth grade, is a member of the team heading to Worlds.

In discussing how she has benefited from being involved with OM, she said, “It helps me think of multiple ways around one problem and it helps me build friendships. It’s just one big team. There is a lot of teamwork.”

All of the parents have been involved as coaches, who are there to guide, but not insert themselves into the problem-solving.

For Mike Cunningham, his involvement with OM started when his daughter, who is now 26, was in third grade.

“The whole thing has become a family event. My wife was a coach, I was a judge at the beginning and then we both coached together. My daughter is now a head judge. Her husband was on her senior team when they went to worlds. They got married. He is also a judge,” he said.

The 2019 World Trials will be held at Michigan State University, May 22-25.

Area teams going are :

Loyalsock Middle School Team–

Elaina Bartley, Micah Sagar, Ava Porter, Rebecca Pietraski, Abigail Colone, Emma Strickland and coaches, Jim Pietraski and Carolyn Strickland.

Loyalsock High School Team–

Connor Gross, Collin Porter, Ryder Haines, David Hutchinson, Harrison Frear, Alex Heiser, Gabe Heiser and coaches, Mark Porter and Chris Haines.

Williamsport Area Middle School Team–

Olivia Ciabattari, Mia Clark, Sydney Kelley, Lisa Lewis, Ben Manetta, Lizzie Ryder and coach Beth Lewis.

Cochran Primary School Team–

Emily Frank, Cooper Gutberlet, Brayden Harpster, Chaedyn Lockard, Julisa Martin, Roslyn Perry, Alex Vail and coach Melanie Vail.