True to their name, Clayton’s Smarties thrive at Odyssey finals

True to their name, Clayton’s Smarties thrive at Odyssey finals

True to their name, Clayton’s Smarties thrive at Odyssey finals
Triumphant Clayton Smarties at the Odyssey World finals. Standing from left: Coach Renee Culp, Carly Grover, Charlotte King, Hannah Laverick, Emma Forrester; kneeling from left: Avica Bennett, Bailey McNeel-Caird, Keira Caldwell.

CLAYTON, CA (July 15, 2022) — Being on the biggest stage brought out the best of Team Smarties, and their perseverance earned them a top three finish in the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals.

“We were guessing that we finished in the top 20 or so. When they called our name for third place, I was shaking because I was so surprised and excited,” said Avica Bennett, who now moves on to 6th grade at Diablo View Middle School.

Representing Clayton’s Mt. Diablo Elementary School, the seven-member team included veterans Charlotte King, Hannah Laverick, Keira Caldwell, Emma Forrester and Bennett, joined by newcomers Carly Grover and Bailey McNeel-Caird.

Their success in Division 1 of Problem No. 5’s “Life is a Circus” competition was a substantial improvement from the 32nd place out of 73 teams a year ago – when the finals were held virtually due to the pandemic.

The squad’s efforts in May at Iowa State University capped off an incredible run that started last October, with COVID protocols looming each step of the way. In Iowa, they were able to perform without masks – adding to the performance as they could project their voices and use facial expressions.

Coach Renee Culp touted the team’s resilience and adaptability.

“I am so proud of them as a coach to see how they grew together as a team over the course of eight months,” she said.

Improv was key

Team Smarties finished behind schools from Florida and Southern California in a field of 60 teams, including ones from Poland, South Korea and Switzerland.

There are three categories for scoring in the world finals: Long-Term/200 points (the requirements for the “Life is a Circus” skit), Style/50 points and Spontaneous/100 pts. With points awarded on a curve, Team Smarties earned 318.42 points and was the only squad to get a perfect score for style.

The girls experienced some adversity at finals as a couple tricks didn’t work and they messed up some lines in the skits.

“(This) flustered us a little bit,” said Bennett. “But our team improvised and kept going. The judges noticed and complimented us on our improv.”

King recalled earlier troubles for the team, including having to switch roles the night before regionals because members contracted COVID and props falling apart right before going on stage during the state competition.

“You can definitely see that this team has gone through a lot. But we always worked together and powered through it as a team with much happiness and joy, not letting it get us down,” King said.

As they waited for results before the crowd of 6,000 in Iowa, King said they tried to stay calm and hope they had improved on last year’s showing.

“Then the announcer called out our team and we all bolted out of our seats, jumping up and down in joy,” she said.

“We were so starstruck, as we weren’t all the most confident due to some little slipups during our long-term and nervous about spontaneous. But we were all so proud of what we had accomplished and how far we had come as a team. It was truly the best thing we could have asked for,” King added.

A community effort

Members of Odyssey’s Team Smarties perform their skit for “Life is a Circus!’’ From left Keira Caldwell, Emma ­Forrester, Carly Grover, Avica Bennett, Hannah Laverick, Charlotte King, Bailey McNeel-Caird.

The Clayton community rallied around the team, supporting a Go Fund Me campaign that generated $4,165 to help get the team and their supplies to Iowa. The girls raised more than $1,800 by selling succulents and popsicles and recycling cans. The Parent Faculty Club also donated to the nearly $7,000 raised.

“The biggest adjustments made were to the props and sets,” Culp said of the journey to finals. “The sets were wrapped in mover’s plastic wrap to fit in my Toyota Highlander. All props were organized into bags to fit in the car.”

Looking back at the experience, King points to the life skills she has continued to develop – enriched by making friends – and being able to experience college life, including staying in dorms.

“Odyssey can help you with social anxiety, thinking skills, opening your mind to new things and, most of all, you get to have fun while doing it,” she said.

Bennett echoed King’s thoughts about life skills that will certainly be beneficial going forward. But just as important was learning to persevere when things don’t go according to plan.

“We kept practicing and improving between regional, state and world competitions. We received feedback at each time point and focused on key areas for improvement,” she said.