Corunna Odyssey of the Mind team defends world title

Corunna High School’s Odyssey of the Mind team — comprised of Alex Sanderson, Alan Jones, Grace Basso, Isabel Rau, Lilly Evans, David Harris and Henna Nellis — earned its second consecutive world championship Saturday. A screen shot of the team’s performance is shown here.

CORUNNA — For the second consecutive year, Corunna High School’s Odyssey of the Mind team has cemented its status as the best in the world.

Despite having to compete in a virtual format amid the coronavirus pandemic, the defending world champtions hit every mark they needed to when it counted, capturing the world championship by a nearly 15-point margin.

The high school squad wasn’t the only one with a strong showing at this year’s world finals, however, as each of Corunna’s five qualifying teams — at the elementary, middle and high school levels — placed in the top 20 in their respective divisions. One of Corunna’s three elementary teams also received the Ranatra Fusca award for exceptional creativity.

“It’s a great feeling,” coach Dan Flynn said. “I’m really proud of the teams and what they accomplished and how they accomplished it, especially given the different way that they had to accomplish it this year (with the virtual format).”

The championship in the high school division is the district’s sixth overall. Previous titles (among all three divisions) came in 1991, 2000, 2003, 2004 and 2019. Flynn has been involved with all six titles as either a student or coach.

The Corunna High School team — comprised of Alex Sanderson, Alan Jones, Grace Basso, Isabel Rau, Lilly Evans, David Harris and Henna Nellis — beat a field of 29 competitors from across the U.S. and as far away as China and South Korea.

Corunna totaled 329.26 points while Dayspring Academy of Port Richey, Florida, posted a 314.29 total and Vestal, New York, totaled 313.96. Sherburne, Kentucky, was fourth at 312.13.

Sanderson said the thought of back-to-back titles had been on his mind from the moment the team captured the world championship last season.

“I’ve been doing Odyssey of the Mind since kindergarten and I’ve gotten second (in the world) three times and I’ve lost by just a few points pretty much every time,” Sanderson said. “You want to strive to get that first-place finish and after I did that (last year) it just kind of felt like the train never stopped … You just want to keep doing it.”

Odyssey of the Mind, a problem-solving and creativity competition for students in elementary through high school, includes two portions.

Short-term or spontaneous problems are given to teams during the competition and they must form and utilize a solution on the spot.

Long-term problems are provided at the start of the season and teams again form a solution and then create a short skit to explain and accompany the problem-solving actions.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s Michigan state finals were canceled and the World Finals competition, originally scheduled to be held at Iowa State University in Davenport, Iowa, was forced to transition online, with teams submitting their performances digitally rather than performing live in front of judges.

Participation in this year’s World Finals was optional due to the change in format, but given the fact teams are scored on their creativity in solving complex problems, Corunna’s squad was more than willing to rise to the occasion.

The Corunna High School team competed in the “Longshot” problem, in which team members had to construct and employ three different vehicles — each running on a different source of energy — to transport materials — baking soda among them — to a desired location in order to produce a special effect.

To craft the submission video, Corunna team members met via Zoom roughly three times each week, according to Sanderson.

Adjusting to the new format didn’t come without a few challenges, he added, noting that with the bulk of the props — including each of the team’s three vehicles — at this house, he was forced to get creative in carrying out the skit.

“In our problem, we had to launch (the vehicles) at the same time, and obviously there was only one of me, so I invented this system within like a week that would launch all the cars simultaneously,” Sanderson said. “We had a water car and for that system it lifted it up and let it go. We also had a car with a piston, and I built a trigger that would push into the switch to launch it, and the last one I built in a similar way.”

The water car used in the skit was something Sanderson had been working on for roughly 10 years, he said, noting that the virtual format allowed him to finally put all of the pieces together.

“What (the car) does is it takes water from one tank using a water pump and it pumps it into the next one and that shifts the momentum,” Sanderson said. “It was awesome to finally finish that car.”

Corunna teams were required to submit their performances digitally by May 15, and on Saturday night, the teams learned their fate during an online awards ceremony broadcast on the Odyssey of the Mind website.

For Sanderson, the moment was noticeably different from the year before.

“You didn’t feel the energy that you feel when you’re in that in the coliseum with hundreds and hundreds of other OMERs that are all trying to get that first place spot,” Sanderson said. “It feels good (to win), but, you know, now I have to get focused up and try to get the last one, three in a row for my senior year.”

Four other Corunna teams also competed in the World Finals.

Corunna’s Division IB team in the “Effective Detective” problem finished 18th, though the team also received a Ranatra Fusca award for exceptional creativity in the spontaneous portion of the competition.

Corunna teams previously won world Ranatra Fusca awards for exceptional creativity in 2000, 2006, 2009 and 2013.

“Getting a Ranatra at Worlds is really tough, but getting a spontaneous Ranatra is even tougher,” Flynn said. “That’s something that’s rarely done, maybe once a year, once every other year. It’s a great honor for them.”

In the “Longshot” problem, Corunna’s Division II team finished 13th and the Division IA team finished 16th.

Corunna’s “Net Working,” Division IB, team was 14th.

For the competition, teams had to transmit an image, an email and a text message between locations using a team-made system.

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