If you ask someone to name a world championship team from Wesley Chapel, the first thought might be the U.S. women’s national ice hockey team that trained at Florida Hospital Center Ice before winning the Gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea earlier this year.
But, for those who follow competitive mind games, the Wesley Chapel Elementary Odyssey of the Mind (OM) team is famous for winning the 2017 World Champion elementary school team in the extracurricular academic activity that is a combination of technology and performance art. According to the OM website (OdysseyOfThemind.com), OM is the “largest creative problem-solving competition in the world!”
Teams of students compete in grade-appropriate divisions to solve problems that require building and using a vehicle they can ride on while completing a triathlon of feats that display mechanical prowess and dexterity, such as jousting, curling and navigating a course in two directions.
The students compete from prepared routines they create, corresponding to a rubrik of requirements, such as a multiplication problem or something more spontaneous — like being asked unexpectedly to answer a question like “name a tree.”
It is a production that for the WCE team, known as “JJAMSSS” (the name is derived from the first initial of the name of each team member), combines a bit of pirate-speak and a boat that turns into a sea monster with a learning platform for science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) knowledge.
“The dynamic of this team is incredible,” says Joelisa Sherman, a parent serving as the team publicist. “They have truly learned the meaning of teamwork through perseverance, hard work, and a lot of creative thinking.”
Of the seven team members, six are fifth-grade students and one is in the third grade. Three of them are returning veterans from the 2017 World Championship competition that took first place at the OM World Finals at Michigan State University in Lansing.
Among them is Sam Cappelluti, who says that while performing as the lead sea monster can be good preparation for a possible career in life science, he really enjoys the time with like-minded students.
“I like thinking creatively and having fun with my friends,” Sam says.
Also adding championship experience to this year’s team is fifth-grader Jason Sherman, who says the atmosphere at the Odyssey World competition is not too unlike other big events, whether in education or sports.
“You develop great relationships with friends and there’s a lot of things to do there,” Jason says.
Mina Melaika is the third member of the team who competed for WCES last year, and she says it truly is an international event. “You go to a dorm and meet friends from Japan and trade pins and stuff.”
Third-grader Jadyn Sherman, Jason’s sister, says she enjoys crafts and finds the OM competition a good fit for her artistic skills.
“I saw the creativity in it and I like to make stuff,” Jadyn says, adding that participating in OM is “a really cool way to hang out with my brother (Jason).”
Anna Gust is a fifth-grader who says she appreciates the close-knit nature of her team and that she wants to “learn more stuff about inventing because, when I grow up, I want to invent stuff.”
“I like to see people laugh at my jokes and I love to do the pirate voice,” he says.
A new member of the team who brings about four years of experience is Sean Donahue, who has been participating in OM for four years. He has high expectations for the World Title defense, which will take place at Iowa State University in Ames, May 23-26.
“I’m especially excited for the Worlds, to meet new people and brainstorm,” he says.
Parents who are serving as coaches for the team are Jackie and Sergio Cappelluti, Sandy Gust and Elena Donahue.
The WCES team earned the right to compete at the World Finals by placing first in the Gulf Coast Regional and Florida State-level competitions earlier this year.