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C-Falls wins state speech title after scoring error detected

January 29, 2019

In an unusual twist of events, Columbia Falls High School has reclaimed the title of state speech and debate champion and added its 14th consecutive trophy to its wall, while Whitefish had to give up its first-place standing due to a clerical error.

The upset came Tuesday morning after an error was discovered in overall sweepstakes scores from the weekend tournament. The recalculated sweeps scores came down to a difference of three points.

It was a bittersweet moment for the Class A teams when the state champion and runner-up trophies were exchanged.

“The amount of pride I have for both our teams is exactly the same as before,” Columbia Falls Head Coach Tara Norick said. “We’re all working so hard and doing so well. It was so close. So close.”

Columbia Falls Speech and Debate team captain Paige Moriarty said the team was taken by surprise when they were called to a meeting via the school loudspeaker. Once assembled, Activities Director Troy Bowman read a letter from the Montana High School Association.

“Someone with a camera was there. We sat down and we had no idea what was happening. There was lot of suspense. He announces it and the room exploded,” Moriarty said.

In a letter to activities directors at both high schools, Montana High School Association Executive Director Mark Beckman announced Columbia Falls should have placed first with 192 overall sweepstakes points and Whitefish was second with 189 points after scores were recalculated.

The error was brought to the attention of Montana High School Association Assistant Director Scott Wilson on Sunday, just a day after the awards ceremony was held in Belgrade as the state competition concluded with a tiebreaker when the score was believed to have been 187-187.

Wilson, in addition to a member of the rules committee, Doug McConnaha of Corvallis High School, recalculated the sweeps scores for all the speech and debate events, according to Beckman’s letter, revealing two miscalculations.

“One error was in Humorous Oral Interp (HOI). Both Columbia Falls and Whitefish should have been awarded 2 more points. Columbia Falls should have been awarded 7 points instead of 5 and Whitefish awarded 20 instead of 18. The second scoring error was in Dramatic Oral Interp (DOI). Columbia Falls should have been awarded 5 points instead of 2 points. Whitefish was correctly awarded 21 points.”

Wilson noted that the Montana High School Association forensics handbook does not address clerical errors in sweepstakes scores, ultimately leaving the decision up to the executive director.

“As the executive director of the MHSA, I have determined that the errors in scoring have been confirmed, need to be corrected and to award Columbia Falls the first-place trophy and Whitefish the second-place trophy.”

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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