WESTFIELD, NJ – Two Westfield teams won their divisions in the Odyssey of the Mind state championship held Saturday in Haddonfield, qualifying them to advance to the world finals next month.

The winning teams from Westfield included a group of students from Edison Intermediate School who won Division 2 for their solution to a problem titled “Experiencing Technical Difficulties.” Team members were Andrew Cherry, Hannah Cherry, Omay Edekar, Finn North, Roberto Panora, Meredith Rosenthal and Sophie Tsekov. They were coached by Elin Cherry and Suzanne Rosenthal.

A group of students from Tamaques Elementary School took first place in Division 1 for their solution to the “Runaway Train” problem. Team members were Ariana Keith, Avery Keith, Joey Gamba, Kevin Warren, Charlotte Schwartz, Zack Preucil and Catherine Collins. Aaron Keith and Mary Gamba served as coaches.

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Aaron Keith called his team’s victory Saturday an “underdog story” because they had been seeded fourth statewide in their particular problem coming into the championship. Only the top two teams from each problem and division make the cut for worlds.

“Everyone went crazy,” Keith said when his team heard the announcement that they won.

Third grader Avery Keith was both nervous and excited at states.

“At the actual Odyssey, I was especially nervous because they announced first after announcing second and third,” he said. “We all just screamed and ran up.”

Keith admits that his team had some mishaps in their performance Saturday, but that the kids rose to the challenge. Two members even composed songs to the tunes of “Frozen” to sing when a problem cropped up.

“They’re not looking for a perfect performance. They’re looking for a way to work together when things go wrong,” he said of the judges.

Kevin Warren, a fifth grader at Tamaques, tried Odyssey for the first time this year
and hopes to participate again. He is still elated after the win Saturday and is eager to
go to Worlds.
"I'm interested in meeting people from other cultures and especially interested in
seeing how people in different parts of the world attempt to figure out all the problems,"
he said.

Odyssey of the Mind is an international educational program that provides creative problem solving opportunities for children from kindergarten through college, according to its website.

In teams of no more than seven, students choose a long-term problem to solve through an original skit that is performed in competition. Team members must come up with an idea, write the script, design costumes and build sets with only minimal guidance from coaches. Teams also work on fast response questions to prepare for the “spontaneous” portion of competitions.

For most teams, competition is the culmination of months of weekly practices.

“The big thing, as a coach, that we try to teach is time management,” said Suzanne Rosenthal, who has coached for three years.

The experience also teaches kids teamwork, effective communication and leadership skills, she added.

Her daughter Meredith, 12, enjoys the many chances to be creative and artistic that Odyssey affords.

“And also, I’ve made a lot of friends through Odyssey,” she said.

Rosenthal’s group’s problem required the students to design and build several devices powered by rubber bands that complete specific tasks.

Keith’s group had to build and operate a small self-powered car that moves on a track above the floor and encounters five obstacles along its route.

Odyssey has gained popularity since it began in Westfield in 2011 with just one parent volunteer, one teacher and a single team of seven children. This year, nearly 70 kids from four elementary schools and the two middle schools participated on 10 teams, said Bernadette Murphy, co-chair of the Westfield program with Elin Cherry.

“I feel that the best part about OOTM is that the kids create and present the solutions themselves,” said Murphy. “We are very proud of all 10 of our teams and especially excited for the teams going to World Finals.”

In addition to the two first place teams, three other Westfield teams who took second place for their respective problems will also attend world finals, planned for May 20-23 at Michigan State University.

These teams include EIS Division 2 whose members are Daniel Carminio, Kate Johnson, Aidan Kilbourn, Aidan Orr, Catherine Orr, Emily Triolo and Kurt Hu. Carmen Mak and Tara McGroddy were the coaches.

EIS Division 1 also came in second and states and qualifies for worlds. Team members for this group were Will Crall, Ezra Davis, Billy Maguire, Kavya Panjwani, Amanda Rosenthal, Steve Wang and Clara Yu. Hillary Crall and Suzanne Rosenthal were the coaches.

The third Westfield team to move on to worlds was Jefferson Division 1, whose members were Avi Ash, Maya Dias, Allie DiFalco, Hannah Everett, Sayee Edekar, Josh Metz and Sam Schupak. Chhaya Edekar and Elyse Everett were the coaches.

Aaron Keith, whose team is made up largely of neighbors on Doris Parkway, will make his second trip to world finals when his team heads to Michigan in May. He competed in Odyssey for five years when he was growing up in Ocean County and made it to worlds when it was held in Akron, Ohio.

Anyone interested in learning more about Odyssey of the Mind is invited to attend a showcase on April 22 at 7:30 p.m. at Edison Intermediate School, 800 Rahway Avenue, when some of the teams will present their long term problem solutions.