At Cherokee Bluff High School, students from Buford Senior Academy gathered with their balsa wood structure and costumes waiting to see if months of hard work would pay off. 

The BSA Odyssey of the Mind Structure Team had placed 2nd at Regionals, qualifying them for the World Finals at Iowa State University.

“When we found out that we had placed for World, the whole team was just in shock,” said rising sixth grader Jace Bedingfield.

Odyssey of the Mind is a program that encourages K-12 students to solve problems creatively.  Team members work together on a long-term problem and present their solution at competition. The problems can involve writing, design, construction and even performance. 

As district gifted coordinator, Stephanie Ledford is always seeking avenues that allow students to harness their creativity and apply it to problems. 

“Odyssey of the Mind emerged as an ideal platform to cultivate this creativity,” Ledford said.

This year, Buford had 16 teams compete in Odyssey of the Mind. Three teams qualified for the World Finals.

With three backdrops and a bin full of props, the BSA Structure Team made their way up to Iowa. 

“I was excited, but nervous,” Jace said. “It’s a big deal to get to Worlds.”

Equally excited was head coach Josh Min, who would be revisiting the World Finals for the first time in thirty years. 

“That’s part of the reason why I jumped on the opportunity,” said Min, recalling why he agreed to coach the team. In 1993, his own middle school team made it to the World Finals and now he got to share it with his son, Myles. 

“This was his first year competing,” Min said. “He had always expressed interest in doing it because I had saved some of my belongings. He grew up seeing those things around the house.” Some of those belongings were old structures made with balsa wood. They would now be building new ones in Ames, Iowa. 

From May 21 to 24, Iowa State University’s Hilton Coliseum was filled with teams from all across the world showcasing their creativity, teamwork and problem-solving skills.

“The feeling of it all came back once we were at the opening ceremonies,” Min said. “I remember that excitement, so I’m glad the team was able to experience that.”

When they weren’t competing, teams traded pins. 

“Constantly during the free time, the kids were trading with other kids,” said assistant coach, Becca Vecchione, “the kids were trading with other kids from China, Poland and South Korea, I can’t even list them.” 

At the competition, the team had to present their prepared long-term problem, along with one spontaneous problem alone in front of the judges. 

“One thing I learned from Odyssey of the Mind is that it’s really important to cooperate with your teammates,” Jace said. “Because once you start an argument it just doesn’t work for you.” 

The Buford Senior Academy Structure Team placed 23rd out of 43 teams in their category. 

“I think these kids throughout the year, they’re gaining skills that they will use as an adult,” Vecchione said. “You know, working with people that are different than them, and doing it in a positive way.”

Min believes there are several benefits that come out of Odyssey of the Mind, citing it as a way he overcame his stage fright, along with teaching him ways to quickly evaluate a problem and find a solution. 

“I hope that, you know, the program continues to thrive within not just Gwinnett, but within our state,” Min said. “So that we can have a strong presence at the world level.” 

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