Top 10: Local OM team makes a big splash at world finals

It was a worldwide honor for some of Indian River School District’s most creative students recently, as a middle-school team placed in the Top 10 at Odyssey of the Mind World Finals.

Around the globe, Odyssey of the Mind encourages creative problem-solving in students from elementary school to college. In May, thousands of students flocked to Michigan State University for the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work and outside-the-box creativity.

In the end, a team coached by Mary Bixler and Laura Miller earned ninth place out of 61 teams in the one of five problems, called “Catch Us If You Can.” The team included Mason Cathell, Isaac Chandler, Jackson Chandler, Abigail Guy, McKenna Miller and Mia Trageser.

The teams brainstorm and rehearse for most of the school year to create an 8-minute skit (“Eight months in eight minutes,” Isaac Chandler said). They also have a day-of “spontaneous” problem.

“It’s where you have to be creative, you have to be good at problem-solving, and you have to be kind of weird,” Jackson Chandler said.

Teams had to design, build and run vehicles from a multi-level parking garage to a secret meeting place, without being stopped. Vehicles traveled different routes to reach the same destination and had to perform tasks to evade their follower.

From this, the IR team created an oceanic world. The vehicles were sea creatures that had to elude a feisty angler fish. The sea turtle vehicle moved when small weights pulled a fishing line that was attached to the axle. The shark and octopus vehicles used RC power and portable fans.

It was no easy feat. As most OM teams quickly learn, a handmade vehicle often needs last-minute repairs.

The strongest teams are often diverse and bring different perspectives to the table. They love drama, tech, sports, music and more.

“We’re all very different. … I think that’s what helped,” Trageser said.

Half the teammates were tasked with building vehicles, while the other half created the script and set design.

The students also have to get creative because of the cost limit: $145 in materials. Creative costumes included a fisherman inside a boat (which hung like a cardboard sandwich-board on shoulder straps). An octopus had legs made of stuffed pantyhose, which moved on fishing lines.

Their coral reef set piece was sculpted in spray foam insulation and cut pool noodles. Large foam fish were covered with coffee-filter scales, tie-dyed with food coloring, plus old CDs for extra shine.

The team represented grades 5 to 8, with the students coming from Lord Baltimore Elementary School, Selbyville Middle School, Georgetown Middle School and Southern Delaware School of the Arts.

This was their first experience at World Finals, although strong showings at regionals have earned them a trip to State Finals before.

Judges complimented the team for excellent stage presence, good vehicles and an endless supply of fish puns, which entertained the audience while they were resetting the vehicles.

At World Finals, teams from across the U.S. and the world — including China, Japan, Poland and South Korea — compete. The IR students even had a “buddy team” from India.

Many people don’t even know about Odyssey of the Mind, so it can be a mind-blowing experience for the students to suddenly be surrounded by 850 other teams.

“I feel like I’m surrounded by my people. … It was pretty cool seeing other people rehearse their skits. To me, it sort of had a surreal feeling. I’ll remember that forever,” Trageser said. “Seeing all these kids actually involved in Odyssey of the Mind is pretty cool.”

Most importantly, they said, it’s fun. Teams can check out other performances, the International Festival, the Creativity Festival and, most importantly for many, pin trading.

Pin trading is big deal at Worlds. Each country, state and sometimes individual teams design special pins to trade.

This year, 34 Delaware teams attended World Finals in Michigan. Other Sussex County teams also earned eighth- and 11th-place honors. A high school team also placed 12th of 56 teams, and another middle school team placed 33rd out of 56 teams.

It’s not cheap to send students, coaches and their props to World Finals, so the IR team thanked the community for helping them fundraise all year.