Seven students at William James Middle School recently made Bulloch County history.
Participating in the Odyssey of the Mind state competition at Columbus State University earlier this month as the Discovered Treasures Team, the group of Loren Eighmie, George Gagel, Bailey Hitt, Sa'sha Natson, Meredith Nobles, Whitt Van Tassell and Alex Wagner became the first Bulloch school team to win a first place in state. They now will represent Georgia at the 31st Annual World Odyssey of the Mind Finals at Michigan State University on May 26through 29.
"I'm proud of our students' amazing accomplishment, and now we must quickly raise nearly $12,000 to cover travel, lodging, registration and competition supplies," said Lori Oren, a William James teacher and Odyssey faculty advisor.
Odyssey of the Mind is an international, creative, problem-solving competition for elementary through college students. Parent Katherine Fitch started William James' program three years ago, and volunteer coaches Cheri Wagner and Peggy Eighmie, mothers of Alex and Loren, help prepare the team.
"To compete with the state's brightest public, private and home-schooled students, win, and now have the opportunity to interact with students from around the world is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Darin Van Tassell, father of team member Whit.
Reaching the World Finals is a first for a Bulloch County school, but the system has a winning Odyssey tradition. For the past two years, three of the county's teams have advanced to state, and eight teams have advanced to state since 2003. In 2003, Sallie Zetterower Elementary became the first school to offer Odyssey, and one of the teams advanced to state that first year.
"Bulloch County's teams are well-respected within Georgia's Odyssey community," said Marianna Voiselle, who started the Sallie Z program and serves as their teams' faculty advisor.
Current William James team member Alex Wagner, a sixth-grader, was part of the winning Sallie Z teams. Beginning in third grade he was on several Sallie Z teams including one state finalist team.
"Those past experiences helped me learn to project my voice when I perform, and it's given me practice with the judges' spontaneous questions," Wagner said.
Team members Gagel and Eighmie, both eighth-graders, are also Sallie Z alumni who took an early interest in Odyssey. They had to wait, watch and learn for their chance to compete until they joined the William James team since Sallie Z's teams were full and Odyssey limits teams to seven members. Along with Wagner they bring a combined nine years of experience to a team that includes first-timers Hitt, Van Tassell, Nobles and Natson.
Odyssey requires a significant time commitment for students and coaches. Bulloch County currently has six Odyssey of the Mind teams: three at Sallie Z, two at William James and one at Langston Chapel Middle School. Sallie Z's Food Court Team, which included Gagel's and Eighmie's younger sisters, Sarah Beth and Lily, and William James' Nature Trail'r team also competed at state after their winning performances in the regional competition.
Discovered Treasures, Food Court, and Nature Trail'r are names of long-term Odyssey problems on which students work for months to develop solutions for competition. While the solutions are confidential; however, the team's winning performance was an original skit with a cast of characters and props depicting the discovery of two archaeological treasures.
"Making the props for our skit was trial, error and a few sore fingers, but I built a mechanical, musical prop all by myself," said Van Tassell, a seventh-grader.
"This is the hard part for coaches," Oren said. "We could show them how to build or sew, but what they chose to create to solve their problem was totally up to them."
In addition to the long-term problem, the team was given spontaneous problems by the judges during competition.
"This has been a hard area for Bulloch County's teams, but our input along with adding Katherine Fitch as a spontaneous-problems coach, is making a difference," Oren said.
The team is tweaking their skit and spontaneous skills before heading to Michigan where they'll compete for three days against 60 international, middle-school teams.
Gagel, the team's optimist, knew they'd win state and predicts a top-20 finish at Worlds.
"Before state we prayed, ‘Good things happen to those who love the Lord,' and we'll keep praying that," said eighth-grader Hitt.
The group also is excited about meeting 800 students from 50 states and 25 foreign countries.
"We signed-up to buddy with a team from Japan, Greece or Africa, and I can't wait to see who we get," said Loren Eighmie.
The team, however, is in need of sponsors to help raise the $12,000 needed to pay for the trip to the Worlds in Michigan. All contributions are tax deductible and can be mailed to: WJMS OotM/Booster, William james middle School, 18809 Highway 80 West, Statesboro, GA 30458.
You also can donate directly to the Odyssey of the Mind account at Sea Island Bank. Contact Lori Oren (764-2752 or email@example.com) for more information about becoming a sponsor.