Bear River Odyssey of the Mind team heads to world finals |

Bear River Odyssey of the Mind team heads to world finals

Members of Bear River High School's Odyssey of the Mind team Connor Ronka (from left) Justin Roberts and Jacob Knox, stand next to their Rube Goldberg machine they made for the regional Odyssey of the Mind competition. Their first place regional win advances the Bear River team to the world finals in Iowa.
Elias Funez/

The Bear River’s Odyssey of the Mind experienced team is taking on the world.

The high school’s two teams — experienced and novice — fared well at March’s regional tournament, earning trips to the state tourney. The experienced team tallied a win at state, earning a spot in the May 23-26 world finals at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

Odyssey of the Mind is a creative thinking competition, an international educational program that encourages kids from kindergarten to college to use a myriad of skill sets to solve a series of five problems over the course of the school year. Being a member of Odyssey of the Mind takes commitment and dedication.

“Each student for states has put in about 100 hours total over the course of the school year,” Bear River Odyssey of the Mind coach Jim Ronka said. “For worlds, that time will go up. As we get closer to competition they will add in a couple after-school days, and Saturdays about 4-5 hours per day.”

“These are all students who are highly involved in other activities too,” said Bear River High School Principal Amy Besler. “And they are excellent students. They’re putting a lot of energy into their academic performance, taking rigorous courses, and are highly engaged in this and other programs. To be as young as they are and to be able to juggle all of that, is really an impressive thing.”

Ronka said despite being an intensive and time-consuming extracurricular, Odyssey of the Mind is by no means only for the academically superior.

“A lot of students think it’s for ‘smart’ kids,” he said, “but every kid is capable of creative thinking. My ideal student is one who has good work ethic and is able to bounce back from adversity. Collaborative problem solving is a challenge for a lot of people.

“There’s so many skill sets that are usable on a team. You don’t have to be the actor, you don’t have to be the set maker. It’s program management, so if you’re a leader or you’re good with finances, or you’re a planner, or you’re an artist, there’s so many different skill sets that can contribute to a team’s success, work ethic being number one.”

There is no exclusivity, Ronka said.

“It’s a club. It’s not a club in that you just show up and be there, it’s a club where you are basically competing as a team. We train and we compete as a team.”

The school and its community will honor the teams (BR’OMers as they like to be called) while fund raising with A Celebration of Bear River High School Odyssey of the Mind, at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Bear River High School Multipurpose Room.

Guests to the free event can watch the teams’ state finals performances, enjoy desserts and bid on gift baskets. All proceeds will support the team going to the world finals.

“Funds raised will be used for travel, room and board costs at Iowa State University, and that is $655 a student. And then they have their flights which average about $600,” Ronka said.

Some of the students who participate in Bear River’s Odyssey of the Mind were incredulous that they have accomplished such a feat, and are still in awe that they are on their way to the worlds stage.

Jacob Knox, 16, who has been in Odyssey of the Mind since he was in eighth grade said, “It was the last thing I expected, to make it to worlds, or to get first place at states.”

Connor Ronka, now in his fifth year as a member of Odyssey of the Mind, agreed.

“I was so surprised, I don’t think I felt it as much in the moment. I was like, ‘what?’ Only later did I realize, ‘Oh, we’re going to world finals again.’ It’s always very cool to see all your hard work and many hours you put in pay off.”

“I am fairly new to Odyssey,” said participant Justin Roberts. “Going to worlds my second year I find incredible, but at the same time I have a team of veterans so it’s just a lot to take in. It was a really cool feeling to hear that we got first.”

According to the Odyssey of the Mind team members, the skills and friendships they have developed by being in the club are invaluable.

“I find the creative part really cool. And also, hanging out with friends I didn’t have before, and we’re pretty close,” Roberts said.

Connor Ronka said his favorite part of being in Odyssey of the Mind is “being able to connect with people you usually wouldn’t hang out with. You meet new people and you’re kind of friends forever.”

“I like being able to go home and go to school and have something long-term to think about,” said Knox, “that’s just connecting everything throughout the year.”

The achievements of the Bear River Odyssey of the Mind teams has not gone unnoticed by the students and faculty of the school.

“It’s such a huge accomplishment that I certainly was just overjoyed and delighted,” Besler said. “I know the competition is really tough and so I just was absolutely blown away. It’s a tremendous accomplishment. It’s really exciting to see them take their talents to this level.”

Jennifer Nobles is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at or 530-477-4231.

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