Odyssey of the Mind regionals makes a creative comeback to FHC

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Ren Brace

Toby and his OM team at state competition in 2022.

Sophomore Toby Cameron’s favorite Odyssey of the Mind memory is sitting in a packed stadium in Iowa. While this alone seems unexpected, Toby’s enthusiasm stems from the thrill he experienced from being surrounded by people from other countries who are equally as passionate about OM as he is.

OM’s end goal—world finals—is obviously an exciting prospect for anyone involved in the extracurricular, but each year, every team starts from humble beginnings in their own region. This year, on February 4, 2023, Odyssey of the Mind regionals will be held at FHC. Thankfully, according to Pine Ridge OM coordinator Ren Brace, the school is large enough to accommodate the 70 teams competing.

We are very excited to be back at FHC this year,” Brace said. “FHC is centrally located, spacious with enough rooms to host all the Problems and Divisions, and has a wonderful and welcoming atmosphere.”

For those who were unaware, Odyssey of the Mind, or OM, is a creativity competition that’s comprised of two sections: the long-term and Spontaneous competitions. Teams work on their long-term solutions and performances for months, whereas Spontaneous problems are proposed on the day of the competition.

As Brace has been a former participant in competitions herself, she grew up to coordinate and even coach OM. For both coaches and team members alike, the experience of preparing for competition and competing in OM is transformative.

“Odyssey of the Mind has taught me how to think in more creative and unique ways,” Brace said. “It has taught me how to contribute positively to a team and that there is always more than one way to solve a problem.”

It has taught me how to contribute positively to a team and that there is always more than one way to solve a problem.”

— Ren Brace

Toby has shared a similar experience to Brace. Since joining OM he has learned many important life lessons; OM practices and performances not only hone skills specific to OM but also refine abilities that are necessary for other areas in daily life.

While Toby learned plenty of acting techniques onstage and many mechanical tricks behind the scenes, the most valuable lesson that he has learned through OM is resilience and not letting a bad day bring him down.

“Stick with it,” Toby said. “After we didn’t do so well at competitions, I was like ‘I’m going to quit. I’m not doing it again.’ But then, I continued to do [OM], and I’m glad that I do it now.”

Along with technical abilities, Toby has gained something far more precious from OM: friendship. Through both his former and current teams, he has met new people and formed strong bonds through constant tests of the team; after all, teams are also graded on teamwork during Spontaneous rounds.

However much fun they have together, Toby and his teammates know when it’s time to get down to business. After all, they are in it to win it and have been to world finals several times, including placing third at the competition last May.

“[Competition] is stressful,” Toby said. “But also, when you do a good job, it’s great to be done with it and just know and that you did well. [My favorite memory] is being able to go to Iowa last year for the world competition; that was a great experience.”

It’s safe to say that both Brace and Toby have many years of experience under their belts when it comes to OM. However, there are some fresher faces on the competition scene, including Pine Ridge fourth-grader Daphne Shea-Zalewski.

Despite her young age, Daphne is already in her third year of competing in OM. From navigating through the beginnings of her OM journey amid the COVID-19 pandemic to qualifying for state finals, Daphne has seen many of the interworkings in the world of OM. Several specific parts stick out to her, though.

“[My favorite part] is probably crafts,” Daphne said. “In practices, one day is scheduled for crafting, and one day is scheduled for the lines. Other days, it’s split right in the middle. [I like competition] because we get to do a Spontaneous.”

The amount of skill and time any OM performance takes up is shocking, regardless of how the team ends up placing at competition. The most surprising fact of all is that no part of the performance may be created by or thought of by anyone outside of the team, including the coaches.

Because of this, Daphne and her team have had to find many creative solutions to problems they may face especially because of how young they are compared to the older participants in OM. Fortunately, this has allowed her to meet other students who she wouldn’t otherwise have met due to being in different classes.

“My friend Charlotte is [in OM] this year,” Daphne said. “She’s in [a different] class; she was new this year, and I would call her my friend all because of OM.”