ELLSWORTH — High school cross-country teams are used to receiving awards on the course after a long day of physical exertion. The Ellsworth girls learned of their latest win two days later — via phone call.
On Saturday, Ellsworth and local rival Mount Desert Island were among the many teams to descend on Belfast for this year’s Northern Maine cross-country championships. A solid day for both teams on the girls’ side saw MDI claim the regional title in Class B and the Eagles finish just one point behind them in second place.
Or so everyone thought.
Early Monday morning, Ellsworth Athletic Director Josh Frost and MDI Athletic Director Bunky Dow received calls from the Maine Principals’ Association offices in Augusta. In the wee hours of the morning, the MPA informed them, a scoring error was discovered that would change the outcome of the meet that had concluded two days earlier.
“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 improperly recorded an MDI runner one position higher than her actual finish.
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 in terms of team points, and the Eagles had finishes of first, fifth, 12th, 13th and 21st.
Unfortunately for MDI — and fortunately for Ellsworth — correcting the problem had a negative effect on the ninth-place runner, junior Rachelle Swanson. Swanson was determined to have finished above Caribou senior Ashley Violette when the results were first posted, but the new scoring resulted in her placing one spot behind Violette in 10th.
The mistake, Dow said, was caused by a rounding error. Although Violette’s time of 21:05.63 was slightly faster than Swanson’s 21:05.69 finish, both scores were rounded down 21:05.60. That resulted in Swanson’s place being recorded in correctly when the results were first tallied.
“When Dave Jeffrey, 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 resulted in the Eagles and Trojans both earning 52 points. A tiebreaker using the sixth-place runners from both teams was then applied, and Ellsworth’s runner, who finished 39th overall, beat out MDI’s, who placed 42nd. Both teams were informed of the error at their respective practices shortly after the new results were made official Monday afternoon.
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 as many 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 Ellsworth American, would have had a bigger problem had the situation come up later in the day. Under rules outlined 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 shortly before that window was set to expire.
Had the mistake been discovered Monday night or later, the official 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 still exchanged the trophies even if they hadn’t been quite as lucky with the timetable.
“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 individuals like that in our schools.”
Ellsworth junior Caitlin MacPherson finished as the top overall runner on the girls’ side with a time of 20:09.30. Abby Mazgaj finished fifth overall for the Eagles with a time of 20:53.58 as Sara Shea and Trinity Montigny finished a respective 12th and 13th, Emma McKechnie took 23rd and senior Miriam Nelson claimed would prove to be the tiebreaking point with a finish of 39th.
Junior Katelyn Osborne was the top overall finisher for MDI on the girls’ side with a fourth-place finish and a time of 20:30.24. Freshman Grace Munger joined Osborne and Swanson in the top 10, placing eighth with a time of 21:04.92.
On the boys’ side, Matt Shea was sixth of 95 finishers with a time of 17:35.77 for Ellsworth, which placed third of 13 teams with 63 points. MDI’s top runner was Jon Genrich, who finished 16th. The Trojans placed fourth with 114 points.
The Class C North meet was also held in Belfast. Runners from Bucksport, George Stevens Academy, Sumner and Deer Isle-Stonington were at Troy Howard Middle School to compete.
GSA finished second of 13 teams behind Orono in the boys’ meet. Fifth-place finisher Caden Mattson was the top runner for the Eagles with a time of 18:06.27, and Clark Morrison (sixth) and Ian Renwick (eighth) also finished in the top 10.
Bucksport finished eighth with a score of 195 points to beat out Houlton, Madawaska, Central, Machias and Fort Kent. David Hileman finished as the top runner for the Golden Bucks, for whom he placed 20th of 105 runners with a time of 19:12.03.
Sumner and Deer Isle-Stonington did not field enough runners to receive team scores, but both teams still put forth strong individual performances. Sumner’s Luke Barnes and Logan Carter placed fourth and 18th, respectively, and Deer Isle-Stonington’s Henry Penfold claimed 34th.
None of the local schools in Class C fielded enough girls to qualify for team scores. George Stevens Academy’s Tess Williamson and Lanny Zentz finished 17th and 18th overall with times of 22:56.73 and 22:57.75, respectively, and Sumner’s Rachael Hastey finished 27th to qualify for the state championships along with Barnes and Carter. Emily Erickson (43rd) was the top runner for Bucksport with a time of 26:18.71.
Qualified runners from local schools will return to Troy Howard Middle School for the state championships Saturday, Oct. 27. Races involving local runners and teams will begin with the Class B boys’ race at noon and conclude with the Class C girls’ race at 2:45 p.m.