BAR HARBOR — The Mount Desert Island High School girls cross country team came home from the Northern Maine championship meet Saturday with a first place plaque. Rival Ellsworth had finished just one point behind, in second place.
The Trojan boys finished fourth of 13 teams with 114 points.
But in a turnaround a bit like the 2017 Academy Awards, on Monday morning the Maine Principals’ Association said they discovered a scoring error that would change the outcome of the girls meet.
Early Monday morning, MDI Athletic Director Bunky Dow and Ellsworth Athletic Director Josh Frost received calls from the Maine Principals’ Association offices in Augusta.
“They called us early in the morning and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a problem with the results from Saturday,’” Dow said. “We didn’t know what it was immediately, but we could tell right away that it was a big deal.”
Ellsworth, as the schools would discover a few hours later, was the true winner of the girls meet. That announcement came after it was determined a computer error had awarded MDI one more point than the Trojans should have received.
When the meet was first scored Saturday afternoon, MDI’s 51 points were just enough to edge out Ellsworth’s 52. The Trojans had runners place fourth, eighth, ninth, 14th and 16th, and the Eagles had finishes of first, fifth, 12th, 13th and 21st.
Unfortunately for MDI — and fortunately for Ellsworth — the processing error affected the Trojans’ No. 3 runner, Rachelle Swanson. Swanson was determined to have finished ninth overall when the results were first tabulated, but the new results placed her 10th, one spot behind Caribou’s Ashley Violette.
The issue, Dow said, was a rounding error. The finish between Violette and Swanson had come down to hundredths of seconds, with the former finishing with a time of 21:05.63 and the latter finishing with a time of 21:05.69. Instead of Swanson’s time being rounded up to seven-tenths of a second, it was rounded down to match Violette’s by mistake.
“When Dave Jeffries, the meet director, went to seed the North and South teams for the state meet, he discovered that the finishing times in the North had been done to tenths instead of the hundredths,” Dow said. “We went back and re-tallied everything, and this just happened to be a major glitch that changed who was the champion.”
The corrected team scoring placed both the Eagles and Trojans at 52 points. A tiebreaker using the sixth-place runners from both teams was then applied, and Ellsworth’s runner, who finished 39th, topped MDI’s, who placed 42nd. Both teams were informed of the incident at their respective practices Monday afternoon after the new results were made official.
On Tuesday morning, Dow drove the championship trophy from Bar Harbor to Ellsworth, where he handed it to Frost in exchange for the runner-up plaque. It was the second award mix-up in two years for Frost, whose boys team received the Class B banner for good sportsmanship intended for the girls team last October.
“I actually got a call this morning saying our girls had won the sportsmanship banner again,” Frost said after exchanging plaques with Dow on Tuesday. “They had to assure me that, yes, it truly was the girls again this year.”
The MPA Assistant Executive Director Mike Bisson told the Islander they would have had a problem had the situation come up later in the day.
Under guidelines put in place by the National Federation of High Schools, changes to “clerical and team-scoring errors” in cross-country and track can be made only if corrections are submitted within 48 hours. In this case, the error was noticed the same day that window was set to close.
Had the mistake been discovered Monday night or later, the seedings used for the upcoming state championships this weekend would have gone unchanged from those tabulated at the meet Saturday. Yet Dow said the schools would have likely still exchanged the trophies even if the timetable had been different.
“When we got answers on the questions we asked, it was a no-brainer because it was clear to us that Ellsworth was the rightful winner,” Dow said. “Even if this had come up four days later instead of two, we still would’ve exchanged the awards. It was just the right thing to do.”
As difficult as the situation was for athletic directors, coaches, runners and the MPA itself, Bisson said the schools’ reactions made handling the fallout much easier.
Rather than dealing with complaints and other forms of backlash, reactions were calm and understanding across the board.
“It’s one of those things that restores your faith in humanity,” Bisson said. “For both schools to be that honorable and graceful about it says a lot about what great people the coaches and students are at Ellsworth and MDI and how fortunate the MPA is to have programs like that in our schools.”
In addition to Swanson’s adjusted finish of 10th place, Katelyn Osborne was the top overall finisher for MDI on the girls side with a time of 20 minutes, 53.38 seconds. Freshman Grace Munger also finished in the top 10, placing eighth with a time of 21:04.92.
On the boys side, Jon Genrich placed 16th for MDI with a time of 18:04.10, and Calvin Partin finished one spot behind him with a time of 18:15.59.
MDI will return to Belfast’s Troy Howard Middle School at noon Saturday, Oct. 27, for the Class B state championships.