Three Wesley Chapel teams competing at world finals

Three teams from Wesley Chapel are heading to Iowa State University to compete at the 2018 Odyssey of the Mind World Finals, in Ames, Iowa.

Some competitors from all three teams already know what it’s like to compete on the world stage.

That’s because they were members of Wesley Chapel Elementary, which brought home the top prize.

Members of one of the Thomas E. Weightman teams that are going to World Finals are, from left: Jake Piller, Zachary Mihelich, Claire Donahue, an adult spontaneous judge, Miriame Melaika, Izzy Piller and Maya Kurian. (Courtesy of Brian Mihelich)

The students on last year’s Wesley Chapel Elementary team are now divided between this year’s three qualifying teams. One is at Wesley Chapel Elementary and the other two are from Thomas E. Weightman Middle, just down the road.

To get to the 39th World Finals, tens of thousands of students from around the globe used their creativity and teamwork to create original solutions to problems, according to the Odyssey of the Mind website.

Brian Mihelich, coach of one of the Weightman teams, said the kids who won last year have benefitted their new teams.

“To get to that level, you have to be so dynamic and creative — definitely by having those kids on separate teams, it contributed, without a doubt,” Mihelich said.

The Wesley Chapel Elementary team won first place at the regional, state and world competitions last year, and hopes to repeat that accomplishment this year.

Three of the original team members remain on the elementary school team, while the others went to middle school teams.

Maya Kurian, Zachary Mihelich, Jake Piller, Izzy Piller and Reeya Latchana work together to make a prop for an Odyssey of the Mind competition.

Experience in the competition helps, said Mihelich, who has coached for four years.

“We’ve got two kids on the team that have been with Odyssey for five years. One that’s been in Odyssey for three years; one for two years; and then one, it’s their first year,” he said.

He thinks the program helps young students develop a new way of approaching challenges.

“I believe that this is one of the most valuable programs that are out there. It’s academic, combined with the performing arts. When you put the two together, it’s a different way of thinking,” he said.  “Odyssey of the Mind is all about coming up with a solution to a problem that no one else would.”

It also gives students a chance to compete with students from all over the world, and it’s a program for students from kindergarten through college.

Mihelich’s son, Zachary, who is on the team, “absolutely loves it,” the coach said.

“He is so incredibly passionate about Odyssey. He loves the teamwork side, the creative side, the competitive side.”

Izzy Piller and Zachary Mihelich work on one of the team’s props.

Mihelich added: “Every team has a little different level of intensity. My group — they’re pretty competitive,” he said. They set a goal at the beginning of the year to qualify for the world competition.

Early on, they were meeting about 40 hours a month. Later on, it increased to about 80 hours a month.

“My garage is 100 percent OM (Odyssey of the Mind),” said Mihelich, who lives in Epperson.

The team works hard, Mihelich said, but their parents also play an important role.

“I’ve got some really committed, just awesome parents this year, too. Without the parents’ full support — behind their kids and me as a coach, and just the team in general — it wouldn’t be possible. These parents have been phenomenal.

As the teams gear up to compete at World, they’re also raising money.

Mihelich’s team is holding car washes and taking orders for boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Anyone who would like to help any of the teams can reach out to either Wesley Chapel Elementary or Thomas E. Weightman Middle, to get in touch with the coaches.

Those wishing to help Mihelich’s team can reach him at .

Published May 9, 2018

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