Shania Clifford, a 17-year-old from Scioto County, became the first female to win a gold medal in the SkillsUSA Ohio masonry competition in late April.
But in mid-May, Clifford found out she would not be attending the next level of the competition, a national leadership and skills conference held in Louisville, Kentucky.
And she found out via Facebook.
Clifford, who had just completed her junior year at the Scioto County Career Technical Center, said she saw a Facebook posting by the male competitor who originally placed third in the competition announcing that he would be competing at the national level next week.
The state-level masonry competition was held April 26-27 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center along with 63 other competitions in the skilled and technical-sciences category. Students enter competitions related to the programs they are studying at their schools; topics range from nail care to crime-scene investigation.
Judges in the masonry program, a field usually dominated by men, originally awarded Clifford first place by a whopping 72 points.
Larry Moore, her instructor, said the scores of the top performers usually vary by only a couple of points, but Clifford’s column for the state competition was exceptional.
“She had the best plumb there,” Moore said. “Two or three corners were perfect.” Plumb refers to how straight a vertical edge is.
Stan Jennings, superintendent of the Scioto County Career Technical Center, was notified by SkillsUSA Ohio that Clifford would no longer be competing. A vague explanation was given: “The scores were inappropriately put in.”
Mike Cowles, director of Ohio’s SkillsUSA, did not return calls seeking comment.
Brittany Halpin, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Education, which sponsors the competition, said in an email, “An error was made during the entry of scores into the final score spreadsheet.”
“This error affected results for several students,” Halpin said in the email, “and resulted in the rankings showing an incorrect winner of the competition.” Halpin added that no errors were made on the judges’ scoring sheets.
Clifford said: “My question was, ‘How can you override a judge’s decision? Why even have them?’“
She was relegated to third place by the re-scoring, switching places with the original third-place finisher.
Jennings has continued to ask SkillsUSA and its Ohio chapter for further clarification but has received none, he said.
This isn’t the first instance of a discrepancy involving a competitor from Scioto County Career Technical Center. In 2010, a similar incident occurred when a student of Moore’s was not allowed to compete at the national level after also winning first place in the state masonry competition.
Jane DeShong Short, a spokeswoman for the national SkillsUSA organization, said decisions regarding state competitions are left to the state chapters.
The national SkillsUSA competition runs Monday through Friday and will involve 6,000 state champions competing.
The state group said Clifford is allowed to keep the gold medal she won in Columbus.
“If they allow me to keep my award, they should allow me to keep my place,” she said.
Source: Columbus Dispatch