JOHNSTOWN — The Greater Johnstown School District is set to send its New York State champion fifth- and 11th-grade Odyssey of the Mind teams to the World Finals competition, set to run from May 25-28 at Iowa State University.
On Friday, Johnstown’s two teams received a pep talk and state proclamations honoring their state championship wins from State Sen. Jim Tedisco, R, C-Glenville.
Tedisco told Johnstown’s two Odyssey teams that he learned many important life lessons during his years playing basketball while a student at Union College, where he still ranks as the school’s single-season scoring average leader and has the fifth-most career points in Dutchmen men’s basketball history. He said Odyssey of the Mind, which is a problem-solving competition, reminds him of team sports, in that individual contributions from every team member help to contribute to ultimate success.
“When I was in school my coach taught us that if the individual doesn’t care who gets the credit on a team, you can achieve unbelievable goals,” Tedisco told Johnstown’s 11th-grade team.
Johnstown’s 11th Grade team “the Energetic Engineers” are veteran participants in the worldwide Odyssey of the Mind competition. The team’s five members — D.J. Long, Trey Naselli, Tyler Hutchinson, Molly Sweeney and Alex DeMagistris — have been together as a team since they were in fifth grade and the group has unfinished business at the world finals event from when they went as seventh-graders.
Trey Naselli, whose parents Joe and Nikki Naselli serve as the coaches for the Energetic Engineers, said the Odyssey of the Mind competition presents teams at every grade level with one “long-term problem” in one of six categories: vehicle, technical, classical arts and literature, structure, performance, and primary categories, and then the students come up with the solutions. Trey Naselli said the Energetic Engineers have always chosen the vehicle category of problem for all the years they’ve competed together, which has allowed the team to get better and better and designing vehicles capable of best solving the annual Odyssey annual vehicle problem.
Long said he believes this year is the team’s best chance to win the world championship.
“We have the most impressive vehicles this year than we’ve had any other year — they’re pretty complex,” Long said. “We have vehicles that can pick stuff up … and perform all of these weird tasks that really require a lot of meticulous handwork on a small scale.”
Hutchinson said in past years the team’s vehicles would sometimes fail at crucial moments, which he credited to the team’s fundamental “lack of understanding” of the problems. He said he believes the group has learned from each past mistake, enabling them to win the state championship and putting them in contention to win the world finals.
The wild card is the “spontaneous problem,” which is the team is presented at the competition and given 10 minutes to solve. Long said the spontaneous problems come in three types: verbal, hands-on, or both verbal and hands-on.
Sweeney said she thinks the Energetic Engineers are strongest in hands-on problems.
“With the verbal problems … I don’t want to say we have a lack of creativity, because we don’t, but we’re a lot stronger with hands-on problems,” she said.
Johnstown Odyssey Coordinator Kristin Meashaw said this year’s world finals event will be somewhat affected by the coronavirus pandemic in that some of the dozens of countries that send teams will likely not participate. She said every U.S. state has the ability to send three state championship teams per grade category, and she knows teams from Poland and South Korea will be there and Johnstown’s teams will be ready to face them.
Johnstown’s 5th-grade team, coached by Julie St. Amour and Rachel Harrington, incudes seven members: Mia Iorio, Neo Baker, Beth Solar, Lila Malatino, Stephanie Singer, Adam Wieczenski, and Noah Sweet.