Seven students from Corona Foothills Middle School headed to Michigan State University in May to compete in the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals.  After winning first place at the regional and state competitions, Vail Unified School District’s only Odyssey of the Mind team competed against teams from all over the U.S. and 33 other countries and won ninth in the world for their specific problem. The team was led by CFMS teachers/coaches Heather Diehl and Jared Colby and included students Stone Barras, Jack Bourie, Charlie Coulter, Danielle (Dani) Jones, Ta Tiana Linden, Madelyn (Maddy) Michael, and Sally Sheppard.


What is Odyssey of the Mind, you might ask? It’s a team competition that teaches students how to develop and use their natural creativity to become problem solvers.  There are several “problems” that students can choose from, including building an electric car or building a structure to hold as much weight as possible.


The CFMS team chose “The Most Dramatic Problem Ever.” The problem description is as follows:  Teams will create a humorous performance about a dramatic character that overreacts to common events. The performance will showcase different theatrical styles as the character overreacts. However, in one situation their reaction is justified, but they are ignored. The performance will also include something that grows and a costume that represents two characters.


CFMS’s performance was a sit com that featured a middle school boy named Tom who overreacts to a failed science experiment and asks a girl he barely knows to marry him.  But when he rips his pants at school, none of his friends want to help him because they don’t believe he actually needs help until they see how bad the rip is.  The team used a blow-up ring balloon as the item that grew, and the costume change occurred when the narrator became his fairy godmother.  The play also included a variety of theatrical styles, including a musical section. In addition, judges commented on the creativity of the team’s background, which was changed by rolling it between two vertical PVC pipes.


According to Mrs. Diehl, the judges’ comments reflect the success of the team.  Comments included:

  • Wow! Just wow!
  • The teamwork is evident, and it seems like they’ve been doing this for years.
  • Please continue to do this in high school because you are all made for Odyssey.
  • This is a special group of kids who performed a step above at both regional and state competitions.

In addition, the state staff of Odyssey of the Mind have told Mrs. Diehl and Mr. Colby that they have rarely seen scores as high as the team received in those competitions.


When asked how they have benefited from participating on the team, students responded that they’ve made good friends and gained confidence in themselves.  They also had to learn how to work in a team, which many of them do not normally like to do.  “Many of them would prefer to work on their own because they’re all pretty smart kids,” explained Mrs. Diehl.  “This experience has really helped them to grow in that area.”


In fact, the students jelled so well that they created other aspects of the team that weren’t required.  One student started wearing slide-on shoes that looked like sharks, and the rest of them decided to make those their “team shoes.”  They also made a stuffed shark their team mascot.  When they were asked to wear sombreros to the state competition, one of the students’ mothers created headbands with sharks on them wearing little sombreros so they could include their mascot.


“The World Finals is a really important competition,” said Mrs. Diehl.  “The opening and awards ceremonies had approximately 14,000 people in attendance.  Roughly 900 teams compete in all of the problems, and our team competed against 67 teams in their problem alone.”


Mrs. Diehl understands the pressure this could put on the kids, as she competed in the World Finals as an 8th grade student herself.  Two years ago, she coached another CFMS team that also made it to the World Finals.  Unfortunately, it was during the COVID pandemic, so all competing was done online. Her previous team finished 26th overall in their problem against roughly 150 teams.


In addition to the competition’s importance for Odyssey of the Mind, it also gave the students a look at what being a college student is like.  The team and their coaches stayed in the dorms at MSU and ate in the dining halls.  All of the competitions took place in MSU buildings, and the students really got a feel for college life.  “A few of the students told me that this really encouraged them to continue on to college,” said Mrs. Diehl.  “This aspect of the competition is a terrific benefit to the students as well.”






What’s next for this group of students?  They’re trying to figure out how to compete next year as a team when they will all be attending different high schools.  The students need a high school teacher or administrator to volunteer the many hours it takes as well as a space for the team to practice and make and store their props.  If you’re interested in learning more, contact Heather Diehl at

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