By Julie Krienke
DELANO, MN With several years of experience in Delano’s Destination Imagination (DI) program under his belt, Danny Jenniges was more than interested when his North Dakota State University professor mentioned the Odyssey of the Mind program during class one day.
“After class, I asked him if he knew of any teams in North Dakota,” Jenniges said. “He said that there weren’t any, but that he would coach if I found people for a team.”
Jenniges, a 2008 graduate of Delano High School, rounded up several other NDSU students to make a team, including fellow DHS graduate Joanna Arnold.
Similar to Odyssey of the Mind, the DI program is a non-profit organization in which students work in teams to solve challenges and learn skills.
When he started NDSU’s Odyssey of the Mind team, Jenniges was finishing up his junior year of college as an advertising major. Jenniges is the son of Joe and Kathy Jenniges of Delano.
Arnold is also a 2008 graduate of Delano High School and is the daughter of Charles and Robin Arnold of Delano. She is now entering her senior year as a social science major at NDSU.
Three other NDSU students, Caitlin Dolezel, Ryan Borstelmann, and Jake Tshida, made up the rest of the team. Michael Burns coached the five students.
“They formed the first team ever in North Dakota,” said Danny’s mother, Kathy Jenniges. “Because they had no other competing teams at the regional level, they went right to globals.”
Without the chance to compete against other teams regionally, NDSU’s newly-formed team faced quite a challenge.
“They went from nothing to competing with the big dogs,” Kathy said.
This year’s global competition was a four-day contest that took place at the University of Maryland during Memorial Day weekend.
NDSU’s team of four communication majors and one education major traveled to Maryland to compete.
Awaiting them was a creative problem-solving competition similiar to the DI program that requires teams to choose one of five problems to solve. Teams then work on solving the problem throughout an entire school year.
“It was nice having one of our team members with inside experience on the DI program,” Danny said. “I kind of knew what to expect.”
As a solution to their problem, Odyssey of the Mind teams are asked to perform a skit at the international competition, a contest that has been taking place for more than 30 years.
“We practiced our skit for four to five months ahead of time,” Danny said. “That was the main part of the competition, and then there was an instant challenge.”
In the instant challenge portion of the contest, teams are taken into rooms where they must creatively solve problems on the spot.
“We were the first division four team to compete at the competition, so we kind of set the bar,” Arnold said.
Before going on stage for their skit, the team practiced their lines over and over.
“We were really nervous going on because we kept getting our lines wrong, but as soon as we got up there, everything went perfectly,” Arnold said. “The audience was laughing, and we turned into a team.”
In the competition, the team was required to create a humorous skit involving something that changes three times and then goes back to its original form by the end.
“The skit had to have a very serious character, a humorous character, and a surprise ending,” Danny said.
There is no doubt that the team nailed their performance, given the audience’s reaction.
“At the end of the skit, the characters who were on stage were screaming their lines at each other because the audience was laughing so hard,” Arnold said.
NDSU’s Odyssey of the Mind team performed an eight-minute skit called Full Circle. The team only had $125 to spend on their performance.
“That was an advantage to us because we had to raise all the money ourselves,” Danny said.
Because they chose to do performing arts for their skit, the team needed to make a set for the international contest.
“These guys are really good in art, so their backdrop looked like a cartoon or comic book,” Kathy said. “They made their set look like you changed the page to a different setting.”
Even though they were not able to compete at the state or regional competition, NDSU’s team surely made a name for themselves at the international competition.
The team won two of the three portions of the competition and took second place in the world, after Poland.
Because there were no other teams to compete with at the national level, the team was also named first in the US.
“My favorite part of the whole thing is that I went online and watched the whole play and saw their reactions at the end,” Kathy said. “Their reaction was that they knew they did really well and felt accomplished.”
The team even surpassed the goal they set for themselves prior to the competition.
“Their mentor told them that if they were in the top 20, that would be something to be proud of,” Kathy said. “To get second was unreal to them.”
It was an unreal experience that has inspired the team to stay active in the Odyssey of the Mind program.
“The last couple weeks were kind of stressful, but I’m definitely going to do it again,” Arnold said. “It was so much fun.”
To watch the skit performed by Jenniges, Arnold, and the rest of the team, click here.