Team says goodbye to Odyssey of the Mind; but first, World Finals

From left, Kaden Robinson, 18, of Wesley Chapel High; Kayla Gutierrez, 17, of Wiregrass Ranch High, and Alec Guillan, 17, of East Lake High in Pinellas perform a skit for the Odyssey of the Mind’s regional competition.
From left, Kaden Robinson, 18, of Wesley Chapel High; Kayla Gutierrez, 17, of Wiregrass Ranch High, and Alec Guillan, 17, of East Lake High in Pinellas perform a skit for the Odyssey of the Mind’s regional competition.
Published May 12, 2016


Some victories are bittersweet. That's the general feeling for a couple of members of the Odyssey of the Mind Division III team representing Wiregrass Ranch High.

After six years of competing on various Odyssey teams together and making it to the state competition each year, Kayla Gutierrez, 17, and Kaden Robinson, 18, are about to go their own ways.

Robinson, a senior at Wesley Chapel High, is graduating, and it doesn't make much sense to continue.

It's been a bit of a swan song for Gutierrez and Robinson, who have been Odyssey competitors since elementary school. They first met at an informational meeting when they were middle school students. She was a student at John Long Middle, and he attended Weightman Middle, but they were a good fit. "This whole season was not really about competing," Gutierrez said.

"It was about saying goodbye to it," Robinson said. "And letting the future advance."

But first, they and fellow team members — Donovan Snider, 17, and Alec Guillan, 17 — are headed to the 37th annual Odyssey of the Mind World Finals.

Theirs will be one of three teams from Pasco, and some 800 from the United States and around the world, to show their creative, problem-solving skills at the finals, which will take place May 25 to 28 at Iowa State University. Teams from Mittye P. Locke Elementary in New Port Richey and Dayspring Academy, a charter school in Port Richey, will also move on after placing first or second in their categories at the state competition.

Odyssey of the Mind is an international problem-solving competition for students in kindergarten through college. According to the website, the program started in the industrial design classes of Odyssey of the Mind founder Sam Micklus, a professor at Rowan University in New Jersey. The competition for younger students was built on the challenges Micklus issued to his students to create wheel-less vehicles, mechanical pie throwers and flotation devices.

Students who compete have eight minutes to demonstrate their solution to a long-term problem before a panel of judges. They also must perform spontaneously

Gutierrez and Robinson are the core members of a team that is unique in that members attend different high schools. Robinson and Snider, who is in his second year with the team, attend Wesley Chapel High. Gutierrez attends Wiregrass Ranch High. Guillan, who is a new to the team, is a student at East Lake High in Pinellas County.

That's allowed under the membership rules, Gutierrez said, adding that it can be a necessity because participation tends to diminish in the high school division.

"People get jobs; they have other things they're involved in," she said.

The team has been brainstorming and working on "No-cycle Recycle," one of five competitive problems presented for teams to solve. Their challenge: "design, build and drive a vehicle that will travel between two team-created ecosystems to process (recycled) items." Students also had to write and act out a skit showing their solution.

There were some caveats. For instance, the self-propelled vehicle could not be pedaled like a bicycle. That got Gutierrez thinking that a hand car — much like the railroad cars of olden days that were manned by passengers — would work well.

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The team also had a modest budget of $150. Not a problem. There were plenty of left-over materials from past competitions, including PVC that has been used in each and every competition.

"The idea of Odyssey is that no matter what happens, you make do with what you have," Gutierrez said.

And persevere during setbacks, including the death of a loved one that put weekly work sessions on hold.

"Several times, we were ready to quit," said Gutierrez, whose mom, Tammy, serves as a coach for the team.

"We were not confident at regionals at all," she said. "The night before, we were memorizing the skit. We had no idea if the cart was going to work."

Guillan, who is enrolled in the engineering program at East Lake High, built the cart. "I learned a lot on the engineering aspect. It was a challenge to take the knowledge I learned in the classroom and apply it," he said.

"He was the brains behind the design," Gutierrez said, adding that their success at the regional and state competitions was the result of a collaborative effort. "We know each other's strengths and weaknesses."

Robinson, who Snider dubs as "the personality of the group," was the color commentator for the skit. Snider excelled in the spontaneous section of the competition.

"He's our wild card," Robinson said. "At states, he was absolutely brilliant."

As for, Gutierrez, well, "she's the glue — the leader," Snider said. "If she's not here, there is no team."

There's some tweaking to do before the world competition. But mostly the team will be involved in fundraising efforts to pay for their trip to Ames, Iowa. By last week, they had raised close to $1,800 of their $6,000 goal.

And while this might be their last go, there's a plan to be involved and serve as judges in future competitions.

"I've been watching this for six years," said Kaden Robinson's mother, Angela. "We love it so much. We're not ready to give it up."