After a year of after-school and weekend practices, two Odyssey of the Mind teams from Mecklenburg County took rare first places at the World Finals in College Park, Md.
Teams from Myers Park High and Beverly Woods Elementary learned Monday night that they had captured an honor only 18 of the 856 competing U.S. and international teams could claim.
"North Carolina doesn't get first place very often," said Dick Raley, Central Region director of Odyssey of the Mind for North Carolina.
Having two teams from the state place first is "very uncommon, particularly because they are within five miles of each other."
Odyssey of the Mind is a creative competition in which teams select a problem in the fall and work on its solution throughout the school year. The program began in 1978 in New Jersey with 28 schools. Since then, the program has expanded to include teams from more than 25 countries, including China, Germany, Poland and Switzerland.
Teams must place first or second at both the regional and state level to reach World Finals. At each competition, students present their yearlong work and also are asked to solve a second problem on the spot.
Both Myers Park and Beverly Woods won their divisions in what is known as the Full Circle problem, which asked teams to create a humorous skit that required a song-and-dance number.
The Myers Park team began working on its skit in January.
"They did a skit that blended Harry Potter and the movie 'School of Rock,'" said Fran Landess, the Myers Park coach. Landess has coached Odyssey of the Mind for the past nine years.
Her team has been together for five years. The group of seven students placed first at World Finals in their first year together. The past two years, the team placed second. Last year, Landess was named Coach of the Year at the Central Region Tournament.
"The first year we ever competed together, no one ever thought we could get first place," said Savannah Devore, a junior. "It was cool to win both years."
"It's kind of surreal right now," said Jamie Marsicano, a senior who will attend Brown University in the fall. "We didn't think we would win."
The team from Beverly Woods beat its competition by 13 points, a "huge margin," said Lynne Koeniger, whose daughter, Lucy, competed.
When the winner was announced, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles alike all jumped to their feet, said coach Meredith Stillman.
"Once they said (our name), we were all screaming and jumping around," said Katie Freije, a fourth-grader on the team. "All the other teams were congratulating us."
Their play centered on a group of dust bunnies trying to make it to Broadway.
"The children decided which problems they wanted to do," said Koeniger. "They did their own costumes, own props. They did it completely by themselves."
"That's the whole premise of Odyssey of the Mind," said Stillman. "It's kid driven."