Evart High School students use creativity for Odyssey of the Mind

EVART — The sense of pride and accomplishment is almost tangible when talking to the members of the Evart High School Odyssey of the Mind crew about making it to the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals. Their eyes light up, faces beam and voices rise in giddy excitement when they share stories about competing at Michigan State University. From May 22 to 25, the seven Evart High School students traveled to East Lansing to compete against teams from 25 countries — the first time they have ever been to the world competition. The students performed in two problems, placing 13th in one problem out of 56 teams and 12th in the other out of 55 teams. "I feel great," Gabe Mooney said. "Out of 55 and 56 teams? Yeah, we did really well, especially for our first year. I think we have a good chance next year, too." According to its website, Odyssey of the Mind is an international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college. Team members apply their creativity to solve problems that range from building mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics. They bring their solutions to competition on the local, state and world level. To qualify for the world competition, the group from Evart placed second and third at the state level. Mooney said the group usually places at states, but this was the first time they placed high enough to make it to worlds. This year was also the first year the group performed two problems. "We performed the same skit, but developed it so it could fit both problems," Rachel Rounds said. "We usually only do one, but we wanted double the chance of going to world and wanted to challenge ourselves a little more." While six of the team members have been involved with Odyssey of the Mind for years, this year was the first time Zach Green ever participated. Green said going to worlds was a surreal experience. Being able to use his imagination and be creative without strict guidelines is Green's favorite part of Odyssey of the Mind. "It's one of those times that are very rare in life where you get to be with people and just let loose and have such an awesome experience," Green said. The team would meet every Wednesday for two hours at the start of the school year. During long breaks, such as winter and spring, the team would assemble the sets and other props for their skits. Each team has a budget of $125 they can spend each year on materials. The money for the EHS team is awarded by the school district. Cardboard boxes, duct tape and numerous other ordinary household products are turned into props. For one of its skits, the group had to have a set based off an architectural piece built in a certain time frame. The group chose the Babylon Temple. They also had to have a musical element and incorporated dance, musical instruments and original songs. Another challenge was to have a piece of the set that would disappear, and then reappear during the skit. Rounds said everyone agreeing on the skit and props used is one of the longest parts of the process. While the brainstorming and constructing is mostly a collaborative effort, some people do step up and become leaders. "Everyone has different strengths," Rounds said. "Carly and I painted the picture cube. The guys built the backdrop. We all will agree on a direction, but then split into little groups and do different things." Watching peers from all over the world and seeing how they performed the problems was a highlight for Mooney. "My favorite part was really just watching the other teams and learning from them," Mooney said. "It was great to see people from so many different countries." After being involved with Odyssey of the Mind for seven years, Rounds said she was amazed by how far the team has come since beginning. "I look back and see how our ideas have developed over the years," she said. "Our first year we had a shower curtain as a backdrop and now we have these really detailed sets."