South Charlotte

Charlotte couple coaches creative kids in world competition

The Carmel Middle School Odyssey of the Mind team at the podium at the state finals. The team placed second in Division 2. The team includes, from left, Noah Leise, Nate Reiney, Jack Walker, Aaron Hill, Cate DuPuy and Will O’Brien.
The Carmel Middle School Odyssey of the Mind team at the podium at the state finals. The team placed second in Division 2. The team includes, from left, Noah Leise, Nate Reiney, Jack Walker, Aaron Hill, Cate DuPuy and Will O’Brien. MIA O’BRIEN

Millions of children worldwide have been working hard all year to perfect solutions to Odyssey of the Mind problems and compete within their regions, states and countries.

Eight-hundred of those teams advanced to the 36th annual OM World Finals this year, representing the best of the best creative young minds.

Two of the teams competing at Michigan State University on May 20-23 were coached by Mia and Pete O’Brien, who have taken Odyssey of the Mind teams to the world finals nine times.

Mia, 46, coaches the Carmel Middle School team, while Pete, 44, coaches the team from Myers Park High School.

The O’Briens live in Mountainbrook and have a son on each team. Pete started coaching OM when their son Aidan, 18, was in elementary school.

“Odyssey of the Mind was big at Sharon Elementary when Aidan was younger, and they had a team that won first place at the World Finals his kindergarten year,” Mia said. “I did some research and thought it sounded like something he would enjoy.”

Division 1 encompasses third through fifth grade, and Aidan was on his first team when he was in third grade.

When he was in fourth grade, Aidan’s coach asked if he could hold practices at the O’Brien home.

“That year we learned more about the process, and the next year Pete decided to coach,” Mia said. Pete coached for Sharon, then Carmel Middle School before taking the reins at Myers Park High.

Mia assisted with Pete’s team until their son Will, now 14, was in first grade and could join Sharon Elementary’s primary team for grades kindergarten through second. Mia continued to coach through Will’s elementary years and now coaches his middle school.

“Pete and Mia O’Brien are an amazing husband-and-wife couple who each coach a team in the structure problem, a problem that few teams tackle because of the difficult rules for competition,” said parent Suzanne Cormier.

Cormier’s son Bernard Bukowski was in Odyssey since elementary school. He graduated from South Mecklenburg High last year and was a member of the Myers Park High team.

“I know that OM has changed his life and that coach Pete has made this happen,” Cormier said.

Coaching takes hours of volunteering each week, often for more than six months.

Coaches plan and structure practices, keep the team on track with problem requirements, give acting advice, oversee power-tool use and provide a place for the students to work on their project.

Team members come up with the problem-solving ideas, write the script, construct props, design and build structures and perform.

This year, the structure problem at the World Finals is called “Lose Your Marbles,” and the skit needs to center around a character who loses his marbles. The problem requires teams to design, build and test a structure made only of balsa wood and glue that will support as much weight as possible.

The structure also will hold five marbles that will be released during weight placement as a result of a team-created device removing a piece of the structure.

After the crusher board and additional weight are placed on top of the structure, the first marble will be released. After the next weight is supported, the team will use its device to release another marble, and so on.

The team will incorporate weight placement and “losing your marbles” into the theme of the performance. The students have a budget of $145.

Pete’s Myers Park team created a skit centered on a monster support group, where monsters Dracula, Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde and Wolfman want to better themselves.

Mia’s Carmel team wrote a skit about a boy so absorbed in his cellphone and posting on social media that he loses his dog named “Marbles.” The team built a lifelike dog that moves by remote control.

“Both teams are excited if we can place in the top 15 at World Finals,” Mia said. “The competition is pretty fierce and there are a lot of teams in each division.”

June Noe is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for June? Email her at jknoe@carolina.rr.com.

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