The West Middle School Odyssey of the Mind team of seventh graders Nathan Dowell, left, Shandon Classen, Mitchell Irby, Jordyn Apsley, Morgan Sarchet, Trever Thomas and Gaby Amparan pose with the background of the skit they performed at the recent state competition and will take to the world competition in May in Maryland. L&T photo/Robert Pierce
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
In May, seven young people from West Middle School and a team of students from Liberal High School will travel to Maryland.
After winning the recent state competition, two Odyssey of the Mind teams will compete at the world competitions at the University of Maryland.
This year’s team from WMS features a mix of veterans and newcomers, including first year coach Zebulon Tiedeman, and one of the vets, seventh grader Nathan Dowell, said while he and some of his teammates have competed in Odyssey for a few years, this year’s event was a little different.
“I think it was actually pretty challenging, and some of us have been doing it for four years, but we’ve never done this one where we have to build a machine,” he said. “This was definitely more challenging than the other years. I was actually kind of amazed that we pulled it off.”
Seventh grader Jordyn Apsley agreed, saying while it took some work to make a great project, persistence paid off.
“I didn’t think that we were going to be ready in time, but we got our act together and shaped up and got there and won,” she said.
Seventh grader Gaby Amparan explained the project the West students performed at state.
“We had to invent our character, and he had to be inspired to invent something, but whatever he invented had to do the same thing as a simple object,” she said. “It’s supposed to look complicated, but it’s supposed to still do the same job as a simple item.”
As for the coach, Tiedeman said being a first year coach has presented a big challenge for him, but he said seeing the results of the students’ work is quite rewarding.
“It’s such a student driven group,” he said. “We had some growing pains in the first couple of months, but when they really pulled it together this last month, it pieced together real well, and I was just very proud of the product they put out. It’s really amazing what they can do on their own completely.”
The world Odyssey competition will take place May 27 to 30. Tiedeman said the problems students solve are mostly story-based.
“One was a tourist problem where they have to tour people through parts of the world but also talk about English literature of the past,” he said.
Tiedeman said the problem the WMS students solved for the state competition required them to sell a machine they created. He said the team hit the solution on the nose.
“They have to create an infomercial, basically, and try to get people to buy this really complicated machine,” he said. “What they did is they have to also get it where it turns successful and it seems successful.”
Tiedeman said getting the machine to work every single time proved to be difficult.
“That thing really does juice the orange. They created this juicearator,” he said. “It was all on their own – all of the work, all of the drilling, all of the wood. That’s what’s really cool is they learn how to use power tools, too.”
Odyssey of the Mind is a creative problem solving group, in which groups of kids are asked to solve a problem that demands them to use creativity to come up with something that is logical in the real world.
“They solve the problem together,” Tiedeman said. “The coach is simply a facilitator. They come up with the ideas on their own. They do all the skits on their own, do all the building on their own. They are judged based on the product of what they produce.”
The coach said he believes Odyssey is one of the few activities that brings out the most creative energy in a student.
“Academically, it’s the most creative activity someone can be a part of,” he said. “They’re really obscure ideas. They demand creativity. They demand you to know math to create a machine. They demand you to be a good reader – to be a good actor. Nathan Dowell is a superior actor.”
Liberal has a long tradition in competing in Odyssey, with many appearances at world competitions. Tiedeman said while he would like to see the winning ways continue, there is one obstacle facing teams from USD No. 480 schools – funding.
“It’s wondering about whether or not we’re going to have the funding to go to world,” he said. “I agree that the district shouldn’t have to pay all of it. I think it’s good that the kids should have to raise some of their own money. The funding is the scariest part. It’s usually the funding in Liberal that will scare us into thinking ‘Are we going to be able to do something like this again?’”
Tiedeman said the biggest requirement of Odyssey students is commitment, and if that quality, along with dedication, is not in place, teams will usually fall apart. He said students in the competition have much in the way of knowledge and creativity.
“I think any student can do it if they just tap their inner creativity and commit themselves,” he said. “This team, I know for sure, is very talented.”
Tiedeman said this year’s WMS team has a person who is strong in every category required for Odyssey.
“There’s one that’s strong in acting,” he said. “There’s one that’s strong in building. There’s an artist in there. There’s someone that’s a good storyteller. We have two girls that can do fashion really well. They’ve got every piece of it, and they can be a strong team that really could do something at world.”
Normally, the first step in reaching the world level of OM is a regional level. Tiedeman said that competition did not take place this year due to funding cuts at many Kansas schools.
“They did not do the regional tournament because there weren’t enough teams that registered to make it a competition,” he said. “In the whole state of Kansas, they had to knock out the regional tournament because there weren’t enough teams in regions. They just had everybody go to state.”
The West team will have a garage sale fundraiser to help pay for the cost of going to worlds from 7 a.m. to noon Saturday in the gym of MacArthur Elementrary.