By CAROL SOUTH Special to the Record-Eagle
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The Odyssey of the Mind Region 3 tournament challenges more than 250 students to be their creative best.
The annual regional competition is scheduled for March 2 at East Middle School and will field 49 teams. Teams are comprised of students in grades K-12 and will present solutions to long-term and spontaneous problems.
Students compete within four age divisions in the creative problem-solving competition, the oldest in the world.
The all-day tournament is open to the public and tournament organizers welcome community participation, in part hoping to spark additional interest in the international competition.
Region 3 tournament director Jamie Wheelock has been involved with Odyssey of the Mind for 26 years and has served in her current role for five. She began when her daughter joined a team as a second grader. Year after year she comes back, drawn by how the program’s teamwork teaches compromise, consideration, toleration and compassion.
To Wheelock, Odyssey of the Mind is an invaluable investment for students and schools.
“For less than $200, a school could sponsor 15 teams, making this a very affordable extra-curricular activity for the kids,” she said.
At the tournaments, judges evaluate each team’s performance, both during the problem presentation and through discussion afterward. The top scorers in each of the five problems advance to state level competition in April, which this year will be held at Northwestern Michigan College.
The tournament’s 75 volunteer judges relish the excited looks on the faces of participants as they eagerly share about their project: how they came up, designed and implemented their ideas. Points are given for outside-the-box thinking, as well as for meeting specific problem requirements and goals.
“They are excited to tell you about it and sometimes they tell you more about the ways they found out things didn’t work,” Wheelock said.
Volunteers, also including team coaches and competition event staff, annually donate countless hours of time because they believe so strongly in the Odyssey of the Mind program. As program participation ebbs and flows locally, and around the state and nation, they provide the continuity for teams across the decades.
School funding is drying up for extracurricular activities — reflected this year in the drop from last year’s Region 3 tournament featuring 62 teams — but volunteers sustain the excitement and provide the hard work required to keep the program going.
“This day could not take place for the kids if we didn’t have these people; some of our judges have been coming back for more than 20 years,” Wheelock added.