South Plainfield Hosts Regional 2017 Odyssey of the Mind Tournament; High School Team Advances to State Finals

South Plainfield Middle School Odyssey of the Mind team members Bill Luo, Rohan Gupta, Abzari Rashid, Rajan Balkarran, Ashley Bloodgood and Nidhi Patel.
Ashley Olson, Jessica Dugtong, Abigail Lapp, Cassidy Leonardis, Colin Farrell Credits: Cheryl Leonardis
Credits: Cheryl Leonardis
Credits: Cheryl Leonardis

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – South Plainfield High School (SPHS) served as the host site of the 2017 Liberty Regional Odyssey of the Mind (OotM) Tournament on March 4.

This year, over 80 teams from throughout the state competed in the academic event, with South Plainfield Middle and High Schools represented in four competitions. Additionally, the team from SPHS placed third and will go on to compete at the state level next month.

Odyssey of the Mind (OotM) is part of an international educational program that provides creative problem solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college. Team members apply their ingenuity and creativity to solve problems that range from building mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics. Students then bring their solutions to competition, beginning at the regional level.

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This year, the six-member team from SPHS placed third out of eight teams in the regional competition’s 'Super Hero Cliff Hanger' category and will go on to compete at the state level April 8 in Ewing, NJ. The team, which is coached by SPHS science teachers Angela Green and Kathleen Benton, includes ninth graders Colin Farrell and Abigail Lapp along with tenth graders Cassidy Leonardis, Jessica Dugtong, Ashley Olson, and Lynda Farinella.

“This is only out second year competing at the high school level so this is quite an accomplishment,” said Green. “The team put a lot of work in since September and has been practicing four days a week after school since January.”

In South Plainfield, OotM begins in seventh grade and, this year, two teams representing South Plainfield Middle School (SPMS) made their debut in the competition. Although neither was selected to move on to the state finals, coach Jillian Tortora, gifted and talented teacher for SPMS, said she is hopeful next year will have different results.

“The kids are already excited about preparing for next year,” said Tortora. “With one competition behind them, they now know what they need to improve.”

The SPMS Division II Team, which placed sixth in the ‘Catch Is If You Can’ vehicle problem, includes seventh graders Rajan Balkarran, Ashley Bloodgood, Rohan Gupta, Bill Luo, Nidhi Patel, and Abzari Rashid. Additionally, the second team, which placed 13th in the ‘Classics… It’s Time, OMER,’ problem, included Colin Campos, Gillian Delacruz, Sara DeSimone, Anisha Goel, Trisha Gullapudi, Roshan Kenath, and Andria Waithe.

Following this year’s event, an awards program was held in the SPHS gym with the top three teams in each problem and division selected to move onto the state competition taking place April 8 in Ewing. Additionally, a trophy was awarded to each advancing team with the respective members earning medals.

Edison School District qualified 10 teams from J.P. Stevens, four from John Adams Middle School, two from Martin Luther King Elementary, and two from Woodrow Wilson Middle School to move forward to the state competition. Other local towns who had qualifiers include Perth Amboy, Westfield, Sayreville, and Millburn.

Additionally, the Ranatra Fusca Creativity Award, which is presented to individuals or teams who exhibit exceptional creativity – either through some aspect of their problem, solution, or for an extraordinary idea beyond the problem solution, was given to Thomas Jefferson School in Rockaway, NJ.

For a full list of the 2017 Liberty Regional Odyssey of the Mind (OotM) Tournament winners, visit

“It is really awesome that South Plainfield offered its facilities to Odyssey of the Mind,” said Jonathan Evans, who coaches three OotM teams at the Union Middle School in Rutherford. “Everyone here did a great job in making all of the kids feel confident and welcome.”

Veteran coach Keith Thomas of Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Edison added, “It is good to see such strong educational programs representing Middlesex County in this competition. It definitely shows the high caliber of teaching that is occurring in Central Jersey.”

About Odyssey of the Mind

Odyssey of the Mind (OotM) competitions are sponsored by New Jersey-based Creativity Unlimited and, each year, thousands of teams throughout the United States and 25 countries worldwide participate in the annual competition. Students select a problem to work on early in the school year and spend long hours preparing for the regional, first round competition.

Coaches oversee students during the planning and rehearsing stages, but it is up to the students to do all of the work that goes into the actual competition. Students must write their own scripts, build sets, and make their own costumes. Additionally, budgets for each problem must remain within a $125 to $145 range, depending on the competition, and, to ensure costs do not exceed the allotted amount, students must be extremely creative in the planning and designing stages.

Aside from the long-term problem that students prepare for during the school year, each team must compete in a Spontaneous Problem through which they are presented with either a verbal brainstorming challenge, a non-verbal manipulative task, or combination of the two. This problem challenges their fluency, flexibility, and originality – three of the components of creative thinking – and does not permit students to reveal the nature of their spontaneous problem to anyone, including coaches, after having competed.

This year, teams competing in the Liberty Regional contest took on problems such as designing, building, and running vehicles; designing, building, and operating original robots that demonstrate human characteristics when performing tasks; and building structures out of balsa wood and glue that will balance and support as much weight as possible. There are performance problems as well, including a super hero cliffhanger and a performance about a group that time traveled and had an opportunity to meet great artists throughout time.

For additional information, visit

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