Thornebrooke Elementary School Odyssey team crowned world champions

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West Orange Times & Observer by Guest Writer Riley Goodman, Foundation Academy

Despite the COVID-19 shutdowns and some technical difficulties, the Thornebrooke Elementary School A Team managed to pull off a world-champion win against 60 other teams in the Division 1, Problem 2 category of the Odyssey of the Mind Virtual World Finals.

Thornebrooke’s A Team comprises seven members — six fifth-graders and one second-grader. The fifth-graders are Lucia Sanchez, Emerson “Emmie” Elliott, Breckan Russo, Joshua Scherer, Natasha Stewart and Maxwell O’Connor, and the second-grader is Emilia Sanchez. 

The team competed in the technical problem, “Net Working,” which tasked competitors to create a device with three, 5-foot-long segments used to transport messages without human intervention. The team’s solution combined scientific and artistic elements in a humorous skit about the evil Pluto’s plans to take over the galaxy, because he had been kicked out of the planet club. The three segments included a helium powered gondola, a boat floating along a true milky way and a homemade robot rover with an ultrasonic cutoff. The team had been working on the project since September.

When asked about what made them want to be a part of the team, they all responded by saying that they wanted to be with their friends and how they all shared the love of STEM and performing arts. 

“My teammates feel like family, and they all have each other’s backs,” Lucia said.

Lucia said her favorite moment was after the regional competition, when they were waiting for their results. She said they were all a bit down because of one of their machines was not working as planned, but she added they all came together. 

Emilia, Joshua, Natasha and Breckan all said their favorite moment being with the team was brainstorming, working together and building friendships with one another. 

Emmie and Max shared a similar favorite moment to Lucia and said that performing at Regionals and waiting for their results was the best part of being with the team. When asked if they were surprised when they won, they all agreed and said yes. Lucia said they were all jumping and screaming, and Emilia said she cried of joy. Joshua and Emmie said they were super excited, with Emmie adding she knew her team would be successful no matter what place they got. Natasha and Max said they were excited and that beating lots of other talented teams was an amazing feeling. Breckan said he was proud of his team for being nice and working together.

Roberto Sanchez, one of the coaches for this Odyssey team, explained how his team was formed and how it entered the competition. 

“It was formed by a group of friends with a shared love of STEM and cultivated by a school more than willing to help them shine,” he said. 

He mentioned that when some of the team members started elementary school, they watched the school’s Spring Show, which included a pre-show of an Odyssey performance. 

“This inspired them to create their own Odyssey team,” Sanchez said. “They immediately fell in love with the spirit of Odyssey of the Mind: bringing science and performing arts together.” 

He also added this was the third year of competing for most of their team and that each year, they qualified for the World Finals. In 2018, the Thornebrooke team placed 13th, and in 2019, the team placed seventh. 

Sanchez said Thornebrooke’s Gifted Program teacher, Jaime Kenter, has been a huge promoter of the Odyssey program in the school. 

“Thornebrooke has inspired many new teams to participate, most of which have made it all the way to the State Championships,” Sanchez said. 

Besides being the Division 1 champion, the Thornebrooke A Team also won the Ranatra Fusca Award, given to 15 teams out of the 843 participating. The award recognizes exceptional creativity and risk-taking solutions, and the A team was the only one out of 101 Florida teams that received this prize. 

Sanchez said he will remember this particular team’s resiliency in the face of adversity. During the regional competition, the team dealt with props falling over and other technical difficulties. That resilience shined through again when the Odyssey of the Mind championship was forced to be online because of COVID-19 mandates. 

“The most memorable part about this year has been the resilience I have seen from my team,” Sanchez said. “This has been a magnificent enriching experience for me, as well, and I have learned so much from the team. I am so proud of them, and I look forward to seeing what they do next year and beyond.”