Wesley Chapel team ready to take on the world

They’re just in elementary school, but these children are already learning about the trade-offs in life.

They’re also getting a firsthand experience regarding the importance of preparation, and they’re finding out that even the smallest of details can alter the outcome in a competition.

These seven children are members of Wesley Chapel Elementary School’s “Catch Us If You Can” team, and they’ll be competing at Michigan State University May 23 to May 28, at the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals.

Members of the ‘Catch Us If You Can’ team from Wesley Chapel Elementary School are, from left, Jake Piller, Sam Cappelluti, Isabell Barrios, Mina Melaika, Rowan Heyman, Jason Sherman and Justin Acosta. They’ll be competing at the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals at Michigan State University in May.
(B.C. Manion)

The team is made up of Jake Piller, Sam Cappelluti, Isabell Barrios, Mina Melaika, Rowan Heyman, Jason Sherman and Justin Acosta — who are coached by Veronica Acosta and Janet Heyman. The coaches have children on the team and teach at Wesley Chapel Elementary.

Naturally, the kids and their coaches are excited.

“I still have to pinch myself,” said coach Veronica Acosta.

Some of the team members have been working together for three years, which has its advantages.

“They can finish each other’s sentences,” said coach Janet Heyman, noting that familiarity between team members lends itself to excellent collaboration on solving problems.

The team has also learned from victory and from defeat, coach Acosta said. “They know what it means to lose, and they’ve learned how it feels to win.”

Even though they’re elementary school students, some team members take a big-picture view on competing at Worlds.

“It doesn’t really matter if you win or lose. Just the experience — just going to Worlds — is a huge deal,” said team member Rowan Heyman.

Team member Isabell Barrios said she’s glad she decided to get involved in Odyssey of the Mind and thinks others should check it out. “Life is just trying new things. It can lead you to what you’d like to do in the future.”

Three of the team members, who are fifth-graders, will be missing their graduation ceremony, in order to compete at Worlds. They think it’s a trade-off worth making. Besides getting to travel out-of-state, they’ll be meeting kids from all over the word, testing their skills in a big arena and getting a chance to trade pins, they said.

Justin Acosta said Odyssey offers lasting value.

“While you’re doing it, you’re getting experience towards life, problems you need to solve every day,” he said.

They know that the competition will be challenging, but they’re looking forward to it.

“I think it’s really exciting, especially for me, because I’ve never been out of the state before,” said Sam Cappelluti, 10. “It’s really exciting to go to a different place with all of your friends.”

The fourth- and fifth-graders already have demonstrated that they’re contenders.

They won first place at the Gulf Coast Regional competition, and wowed the judges so much that they won the “Ranatra Fusca Award” for their exceptional creativity.

They also won first place at the state tournament at the University of Central Florida on April 8.

Odyssey of the Mind is a competition that encourages students to use creative approaches to solving problems. The program emphasizes the importance of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

In Odyssey of the Mind, teams come up with their own ideas, engineer technical features, make costumes and props, and present their interpretation of the answer to a highly complex problem.

More than 825 teams from around the world are expected to compete in the 38th Odyssey of the Mind World Finals. The teams represent nearly every state in the United States and approximately 20 other countries.

It takes a lot of work, said 10-year-old Mina Melaika. The team meets every day, “adding small details” and re-reading the problem “to be sure that we’re getting everything right,” the fourth-grader said.

Ten-year-old Jason Sherman is excited about the competition, but he has another agenda, too.

“When I get up there, I want to try making a lot of friends,” he said.

Published May 3, 2017

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