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Coquitlam team needs help getting to Odyssey of the Mind world championships

Trip to Odyssey of the Mind world finals in Michigan goes through the Hillcrest middle school team’s stomachs.
Odyssey of the Mind team from Hillcrest middle school
The Odyssey of the Mind team from Coquitlam's Hillcrest middle school tracks the progess of one of their "vehicle," made of pill bottles and duct tape, up a getaway track built from cut up storage bins as they prepare for the problem solving competition's world finals at Michigan State University May 24-27. The team of Grade 6 students is comprised of (front to back) Jason Liao, Tyson Zadravec, Devon Brooks, Talia Viljoen, Veronika Braun, Amelie Timer and Ruby Charney.

A team of seven Grade 6 students from Coquitlam's Hillcrest middle school is preparing to embark on an Odyssey of the Mind. But their reward is all about the stomach.

“Tater Tots!” shouts Tyson Zadravec when the group is asked the best thing about participating in the international competition that challenges school kids to work together to creatively solve problems and overcome challenges.

“There’s pretty decent food at the all-you-can-eat buffet,” says Devon Brooks.

Tyson, Devon, Amelie Timer and Talia Viljoen are the veteran members of Hillcrest’s Odyssey of the Mind team that competed at last year’s world finals in Ames, Iowa. Their experience and insight into the bounty of snacks that await are invaluable to the team’s rookie members, Ruby Charney, Jason Liao and Veronika Braun, as they prepare to travel to this year’s championships, to be held May 24 to 27 at Michigan State University.

To get there has been an odyssey in itself.

Since the team of Middle Age Cluster Class (MACC) students formed in October, they put in weekly planning and practice sessions to work through their chosen problem, which involves creating three different self-propelled vehicles that must travel on three unique tracks to converge at a “secret” meeting place while eluding capture by a pursuing “bad guy.” They had to design and build the vehicles and tracks from everyday items and then present their solution in an eight-minute skit that is judged for creativity as well as the quality of their problem solving.

The idea, says their coach Jennifer Timer, is to test the kids’ teamwork, respect for one another’s ideas, patience and practical skills.

“They see the value in teamwork and learn leadership roles,” says Timer, who’s not allowed to help her charges work through their problem. “But the big thing is their problem-solving ability and developing confidence.”

Leading up to the team’s triumphant run at the provincial championships April 8 at nearby Montgomery middle, they upped their commitment to two-hour practices after school daily. They also created a wiki so they could exchange ideas online, sometimes late at night. 

The pressure was intense, says Amelie, admitting, “You’re thinking about it all the time.”

“We were all nervous, yelling at each other to get stuff done,” says Ruby. “But when we were done, we were really happy.”

They’d also qualified for the worlds, where they’ll be competing with 15,000 students from countries as far away as Togo and Poland.

And while they’re excited for the trip, it has brought a new set of challenges, such as troubleshooting the operation of their Rube Goldberg contraption, deconstructing it so it can be easily shipped to East Lansing, Mich. and honing the script for their presentation skit, being sure to include lots of puns.

“The judges love puns,” says Amelie.

They also have to fundraise.

Getting the crew, their coach and parent chaperones to Michigan will cost about $10,000, says Timer. To lessen the hit to family bank accounts, the team is looking for sponsors, holding bottle drives and donut sales. They’ve also launched a GoFundMe page.

“It’s a bit eye-opening with the finances,” says Timer. “They take it all very seriously but it’s worth the hard work.”

On that, she gets no argument from the kids.

“You get to be as wacky and weird as you want to be and make your crazy ideas possible,” says Ruby.

“You meet tons and tons of people from everywhere,” says Tyson.

“You have to work together and do a lot of planning,” says Jason.

“You get to build stuff and eat good food,” says Amelie.

Of course.

• To help get the team from Hillcrest middle school to the Odyssey of the Mind world finals, go to