Energetic Engineers advance to World Finals

JOHNSTOWN — A special group of six city sophomores involved in Odyssey of the Mind activities for years — who wouldn’t take no for an answer and decided to “go rogue” — are going to the OM World Finals in June in Florida.

The event will be held both virtually and in-person, with the Johnstown kids planning to travel to the Sunshine State. Odyssey of the Mind is hosting this year’s in-person World Finals competition June 11-12 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.

The six-member “Energetic Engineers” Johnstown team decided after they couldn’t be funded by the Greater Johnstown School District during a fiscal downturn to take matters into their own hands.

“We had the opportunity to form our own team, independent of the district,” says OM Coach Joe Naselli.

OM rules allow that, he said.

The “Energetic Engineers” — 10th graders D.J. Long, Tyler Hutchison, Trey Naselli, Isabella Bermas, Molly Sweeney, Alex DeMagistris — have now made it to the upcoming World Finals in Orlando. Along the way, they even made their own costumes for the competition.

“It’s a lot of fun, we do a lot of thinking outside the box,” said Trey Naselli.

Long stated: “I started when I was young. I thought it was a fun after-school activity.”

He said he definitely wants the group to keep going through high school.

Sweeney said she is “very excited” for the World Finals in Florida.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” she said. “Building things is a great part of it.”

In 2020, the students had practiced and practiced and practiced for OM, but it never happened because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, they said they wouldn’t be denied — no matter what.

Odyssey of the Mind is a creative problem-solving program involving students from kindergarten through college. Team members work together at length to solve a predefined long-term problem and present their solution to the problem at a competition. The skits mix humor and drama into the problem solving.

“The problem they have is to build a vehicle in search of humor,” coach Naselli said.

Here is the eight-minute problem synopsis the Johnstown students will be doing in their skit, as provided by Naselli: Problem 1: OMer the ROMER

Divisions III

“OMers are always looking for new fun—and funny—experiences! Teams will design and build a ride-on vehicle that takes an OMer on an adventure in search of humor. The vehicle will use stored energy as it is propelled forward and in reverse. At each place, the vehicle and the OMer will react to something funny before the vehicle begins to travel to the next destination. Performances will also include the OMer making an unplanned stop to take a selfie, a creative physical representation of the selfie, and a vehicle-produced special effect.”

Naselli said the skit promises a mix of physicality, smiling, laughing and special effects.

A team member’s mother — Jennifer Sweeney— recounted that when the school district couldn’t guarantee the students would have the Odyssey of the Mind program for the 2020-21 school year, “one team wasn’t willing to take the chance.”

“Like many school districts, our district was on the fence,” Sweeney said.

After the district decided not to fund OM, she stated “these kids decided we can do this.”

Some of the team members — Naselli, DeMagistris, Long, Hutchison and Sweeney — have been competing together since elementary school, and advanced to the World Competition level in 2018 and 2019.

“With our team, the kids really started the program in the fourth grade,” Sweeney said. “They found really great success.”

Sweeney said “Bella” Bermas joined the team in 2019-20, but their season was cut short when COVID closed the schools down. She said the Johnstown team — along with other teams in OM Region 21 — found out just before last year’s regional competition that their season was over.

“It was devastating,” said team member Molly Sweeney. “We had a really great long-term skit. We know we could have gone far.”

But the team members, along with coach Naselli, decided to persevere for this school year with their trademark positive, never-give-up attitude.

This year’s regional and state competitions were held virtually, and the Energetic Engineers didn’t disappoint, securing their spot in the World Finals.

Naselli said the team came in fourth place in the virtual state competition.

One private donor is providing at least $5,000 for the six local OM team members to go to Orlando, but funding for the rest of the trip — including adults— is still being worked on. They haven’t decided yet on fundraising, but hard work is what has gotten the team to the finals.

“They’re a great bunch of kids,” Naselli says.

By Paul Wager