MHSA says title reversal was first ever

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The Columbia Falls speech and debate team is all smiles after learning it won the state A championship Tuesday. To view a video of the announcement to the team, visit the Hungry Horse News Facebook page. Front row, from left: Emmalee Hellen, Isaac Adams, Ave McDonald, Chloe Coberley; second row, Raphe Salmon, Calie Jo Johnson; third row, Griffin Conger, Emma Stephens, Haileigh Bayee, Paige Moriarty, Maggie McKeon; fourth row, Delaney Conger, Lara Erickson, Anna Pickard, Sam Lovering, Tre' Finley, Katherine MacPherson, Konnor Heindl; fifth row, Aiden Judge, Ava Foley, Suzanna Rosalez, Shyane Williams, Cassidy Norick, Kelsey Wright, Ian McKenzie.

The Montana High School Association says it will not be changing the way it scores speech and debate meets after mistakes led to a controversial result at this year’s state meet in Belgrade.

Whitefish High School went home from the state tournament with the first-place trophy on Jan. 27, but had to turn that trophy over to Columbia Falls two days later after scoring errors at the meet were confirmed by the MHSA.

According to MHSA Assistant Director, Scott Wilson, it was the first time in the organization’s history that a state title had to be reversed.

“There has not been a situation like this in speech and drama or any activity that anyone can recall,” Wilson said. “The tabulation of results and scoring are done by hand and the same procedures have been in place for years. This was a clerical error and, in the future, tournament managers will continue to do their best, as they have in the past, to make sure that this type of mistake does not happen again.”

According to Wilson, scoring at the state meet is conducted by coaches who are assigned by the tournament manager. Each event has representation from both the East and West divisions of the state and scoring is calculated using the rubric outlined in the MHSA forensics handbook.

At the state meet in Belgrade, it was announced that Columbia Falls and Whitefish had tied with 187 points each, with the final decision to award the first-place trophy to Whitefish coming on the second tiebreaker criteria, number of second-place finishers.

According Wilson, he was notified by Columbia Falls Activities Director Troy Bowman on the morning of Jan. 27 that Wildcat head coach Tara Norick believed the final point tally was incorrect.

The following day, the scores were recalculated by Wilson and state rules committee member Doug McConnaha of Corvallis High School. Once the recount was completed, two scoring errors discovered where the teams had not received points for contestants advancing to the semi-final round.

One error was in humorous oral interpretation. Both Columbia Falls and Whitefish should have been awarded two more points. Columbia Falls should have been awarded seven points instead of five and Whitefish awarded 20 instead of 18. The second scoring error was in dramatic oral interpretation. Columbia Falls should have been awarded five points instead of two points. Whitefish was correctly awarded 21 points.

After the errors were found and confirmed, it was determined that Columbia Falls should have won the meet with 192 points, while Whitefish was second with 189.

As the MHSA forensics handbook does not address clerical errors for sweepstakes scoring, the final decision on how to resolve the matter was left up to MHSA Director Mark Beckman.

In an email to both schools Jan. 29, Beckman stated that he had “determined that the errors in scoring had been confirmed and need to be corrected.” It was his determination that Columbia Falls should be awarded first place and Whitefish second for the 2019 Class A forensics state championship.

According to Columbia Falls head speech and debate coach Tara Norick, there actually are procedures being considered that would help such a mistake from happening again in the future. Norick says the rules committee will be considering implementing a computer spreadsheet to assist with scoring at the Montana Forensics Educators Association meeting at the end of this month. If approved, the new scoring aid will be presented to the MHSA for final approval before next season.

“We are all human and it was late in the day and people were tired. The students were already waiting to get their awards and there was a big rush to get it all done,” Norick said. “We just need a way to double check things so that this doesn’t happen again.”

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