Long post warning. Engage extended attention span!
I have been assembling a laundry list of the problems at this year's Washington event, because the magnitude of the amateur debacle that was the organization and implementation of the 2010 Washington State Championship cannot be ignored.
It is impossible for us to know if the final rankings reflect what would have happened without the myriad errors, thus all teams - including the B and C Champions - ought to be pressing for answers. You see, the champs now have tainted titles whether deservedly or not, while other teams may have been knocked out of Nationals by staff incompetence. Maybe the final rankings would have been the same, but we'll never know. Personally, I doubt it.
To be fair, official errors and goofs occur at pretty much every event, and they are frustrating. But never before have I been in attendance at an SO event (not even at any hastily-arranged invitational) that suffered from the broad, wholesale mismanagement at nearly every level seen in Cheney this year.
Everyone who participated deserved better treatment and respect for all the hours and hours of effort, study, lost sleep, lost family time, lost friend time, etc. To work so hard, give so much, and then have your work blown off and made irrelevant by inexcusable bumbling and incompetence from the staff.... I just feel for everyone who had to suffer through such unprofessional treatment.
I have emailed these concerns to the Washington State SO Director (Sue Murphy), as well as the Events Director for the State Championship (Heather McKean), and also forwarded my concerns to the National Science Olympiad Office.
Please help me add to this list if you are aware of any significant issues not covered here:
- Cell Bio: Proctor was not even aware that there were rules, attempted to confiscate notes, and provided a test that consisted entirely of questions on frog sperm. Frog sperm? Was that supposed to be funny?
- Dynamic Planet: Some faulty scales hindered the process, and some of the test questions were a bit on the unreasonable side.
- Elevated Bridge: A proctor was observed picking up bridges from impound and literally twisting and flexing them, and commenting along the lines of "that one is strong" or "this one is kind of flimsy". Anyone with a modicum of engineering knowledge knows those were not built to withstand twisting. How many of the better (more finely-engineered) bridges were damaged by this before their test? Additionally, the proctors inappropriately coached some students on how to pour the sand into the bucket.
- Experimental Design: The proctor provided all students with the procedure, effectively leveling the playing field. It's like handing out the answer key before a test, taking away the advantage held by the better-prepared teams. Isn't the whole point that the team is supposed to come up with their own solutions unaided?
- It's About Time: All scores tossed out because a proctor was texting. Absolutely inexcusable. I would have lost it if I prepared all that time to help my team and then had my contribution blown off because someone was texting.
- Mousetrap Vehicle: Course placed in heavy foot traffic area but not guarded with any physical barrier, resulting in numerous pedestrian incursions into the area which contaminated the floor surface (and risked damage to the vehicles from being stepped on). Also, the course boundary width was narrower than the normally-accepted interpretation, causing entries that were typically compliant to be penalized.
- Physics Lab: Only four questions, some of dubious value. Improper motor used for testing resulted in poor and failing scores for the better-engineered entries (but successfully ran a cheap pinwheel).
- Picture This: Four-minute time limit seriously reduced (perhaps by about 10%) by proctors who could not get the cards ready by the time the clock started.
- Wright Stuff: I was informed that the Canyon Park team was denied their second flight. Not because they started late or took too much time, but because the proctors just wanted to get the next team in, perhaps because the schedule was set up too tight? Canyon Park did nothing wrong but were prohibited from their fair second opportunity to get a good flight time.
- Announcer heard muttering a comment along the lines of "but we don't like Bothell".
- At least one of the scores posted in the results for our first and second teams were swapped, clearly impacting the final results of both teams (knocking the 'first team' down a bit). I suspect this was not an isolated mistake, as several times announcers stumbled when it wasn't clear which team at a particular school had ranked.
- Speaking to the previous point, it was determined in mid-ceremony that a team had been improperly awarded medals (which does not inspire confidence in the accuracy of the scoring). But instead of quietly correcting the scores to make sure team totals were correct, and later mailing medals to the deserving winners, the announcers had the gall to publicly humiliate the wrongly-awarded team by asking them to remove their medals and hand them to the other team. Are you serious?
- Announcers failed to pre-read and verify pronunciations (or document preparers failed to proof-read), as Jason Lee was called "Jackson Lee" three times that I am aware of despite fairly loud corrective protests that I could hear from across the arena. Excel Academic League was also referred to as "Excel Academy" at least once. Come on, announcers, take a few moments to know who you're talking about, show some respect for their identities and get it right. I am not kidding when I admit dozing through part of the ceremony, so no doubt there were other instances I missed.
- Inappropriate vocal inflections when calling out teams. When I heard "....and in first place, again, Excel." I cringed for Excel as well as everyone else. Just call it, don't editorialize.
- At nearly every SO event I've been to, door prize trinkets, shirts, frisbees, whatever, were tossed into the crowd prior to or during the ceremony. This time, though, everything was just put out on a table at one end of the gym. Then, at the end, they said go help yourself. This was entirely unfair to students in the upper decks and on the far side of the gym, who did not have a chance to get to the tables before they were empty. But that takes a back seat to the safety concerns. How smart is it to have a few hundred students hustling down the bleachers, mingled with parents, grandparents, younger siblings? Worse, did you notice the parents scrambling to get the very young children playing by those tables out of the way before they were trampled? I am honestly surprised no one was hurt in that rush.
Every single student on any team I happened to talk to about the subject assured me they now have no interest in attending EWU. Maybe that was the case before the event, but this disaster sealed the deal. Way to go, directors and EWU.... you just chased away many of the brightest up and coming students who might have considered you.
My kids are discouraged, and so are many other parents and volunteers. That was way too much time to invest, just to have so much of it blown away by such incompetence. I wouldn't blame anyone who was brushed aside by this event who decided to not bother trying again. There's other places to compete academically where your efforts will be treated with respect.
I got this reply from Ms. Murphy:
Your feedback was received and issues you raised will
be reviewed. Indeed, at this point, ALL event tests and scoring sheets
have been reviewed to ensure they fall within rule parameters and
verified for accuracy in scoring. While you may disagree with some
outcomes, I have every confidence that the final scores distributed at
the tournament and posted on the web site are accurate.
WSO, State Director
No way this is true, and it didn't even address the bulk of my concerns. You cannot throw events out, damage build entries, provide faulty equipment, improperly coach some teams, use incorrect build event boundaries, give all teams the answer to an event, deny teams their fair competition time, have proctors that don't even know rules exist, not to mention fumble up final scores, and tell me with a straight face that you "have every confidence that the final scores distributed at the tournament and posted on the web site are accurate." There is no pair of boots tall enough to wade through that.
Sorry for the long post. Other observations, corrections, contributions welcomed and encouraged. Thanks.