Today’s theme is “Hurry up and wait,” as I sit here in the Traverse City Central High School cafeteria while the kids do their Odyssey of the Mind State competition. Odyssey of the Mind is a creative competition that gives kids problems to solve and tasks to accomplish and then scores them on how well they come up with solutions. They get extra points for style, creativity, and teamwork. Outside assistance is strictly forbidden. Even the coaches can’t really coach or offer ideas or suggestions. All the coach can do is facilitate what the kids want to do, and I think warn them if they stray outside the guidelines. I can’t keep my mouth shut when I see something that could be fixed or improved, so I absolutely can’t coach this event. I stay out of the way and leave that to our wonderful friend Katharine. I try not to find out anything about what the kids are doing until the day of competition, because I know I’ll just have to butt in and give advice that could be disqualifying.
This is the second year of Odyssey for the triplets, and the first for Liam. They are working with some other boys that they worked with last year. It has definitely been a part-time thing for them…until they saw the other teams at the Regional competition. Our kids had met for 2-6 hours a week, and while they fulfilled all the technical requirements for their problem, they didn’t really go further. There was paint and cardboard, and a creative script. At Regionals, they saw teams that had been meeting for 10 or more hours a week consistently since September, that had been working together for years and so amassed a collection of props and devices to draw upon. There were elaborate constructions on wheels, with spinning parts and music from speakers. There were costumes ready for a professional theater performance, wooden structures, all kinds of things. The kids were impressed. They really only ended up going to State because they had no competition in their division and problem, and their Style score was so low that there was some question for a bit whether they would meet the minimum points requirement needed for State.
As soon as they got back from Regionals, the kids got busy. They met formally for at least 6 hours every week, and various of the kids would stay at Katharine’s for hours after a meeting had officially ended, painting and building and sewing and gluing. They took acting lessons and fleshed out their script with more jokes and puns. They worked very hard for all of March, and from what I could see when they loaded all of their gear into the van Thursday, they made quite a leap from where they were.
They may not be ready to place high enough to go to Worlds. They will have direct competition today, from teams that already passed the test of Regionals. (Frankly, we parents are kind of hoping they don’t go on to Worlds, because that’s another $5000 and a whole week in Iowa!) I promised to take them out for dinner if they medal, but I’m just excited to see what they come up with. It’s amazing what sprouts from their heads and hands when they really set their minds to something. Meanwhile, they’ll get to see another level of competition that they’re up against, and will go home with more idea of the standards they’re facing.
And maybe next year, or the year after, they’ll go to Worlds. That is, if Katharine can stick with us that long!