I’m a rule-follower. I almost never question authority. Don’t get me wrong, I check my receipt at the grocery to make sure my coupon rang up, and if it doesn’t, I point that out. But for the most part, if an official tells me something is right, I tend to assume they know what they’re talking about and accept what they say. This tendency of mine almost cost one of my teams (BIG TIME) at a large National Championship event.
Here’s the quick back ground. I was working as a tumbling instructor for a relatively new (3-year-old) high school cheerleading program. The coach was a young lady who was a former all star student of mine. Also, this was her first job as Head Coach and Advisor of a cheer program. All of that being said, she asked me for advice quite a bit, and I was happy to give it to her.
Anyway, we were at Nationals. In the preliminary round, we didn’t do so well. We had a few tumbling touch downs and a stunt come down. Our division was fairly tough, but I had seen a few other teams struggle as well. According to the competition rules, at least 50% of the teams would advance to the semi-finals. Based on our performance and the other teams that I saw, I figured it was going to be close. I was right.
Now for some math. There were 19 teams in the division. Of those 19 teams, the top 4 were advanced straight to the finals, bi-passing the semi-finals. Of the remaining 15 teams, 7 were selected to go on to the semi-finals. We were ranked 8th, exactly 1 place shy of advancing. By my math, the competition had advanced 11 teams out of 19, which is more than 50%, so I figured we were out of luck.
However, my young head coach could not accept that. She said it just didn’t “feel right.” Based on our team’s performance, she thought we “deserved” to make it out of the prelims. Personally, I agreed that our routine was good enough to be finals-worthy. However, being a judge, I know that judging can be highly subjective and sometimes people just have different opinions. We re-added all of the numbers on our score sheets. The math was right. I didn’t think we could argue any of the specific scores we were given. Again, I thought we were done. But the coach wouldn’t let it go. So she and I and the rest of our staff waited for 2 hours to speak to an official about the rankings. Coach tried every appeal she could think of. This guy was very nice and sympathetic, but he wasn’t budging. He explained that he COULD have advanced us into semi’s, but he had to make a cut somewhere, and it just happened to be at 7. He also explained that he cut it off there because there was a 4 point gap between 7th and 8th and only a 1 point gap between 8th and 9th. Cutting at the largest score break is the industry standard, so again, I figured the issue was closed.
There was a little bit of crying. Then we got on a bus and headed back to the hotel. Me and staff were already talking about next year, tryouts and how we were going to definitely make it further. The coach, on the other hand, was reading all of the fine print in the rule book. By the way, she was doing this without any encouragement from the rest of us, who were all older and more experienced than she was. In fact, we had each basically told her she was wasting her time. And then, just as we were pulling into the hotel parking lot, she shouted out, “We should have advanced to semi’s!”
Coach explained that the rule book said at least 50% of the teams had to be advanced to the semi’s. I said, “Yeah, and they did. We had 19 in the division and 11 advanced. That’s more than 50%.” Coach replied, “Yeah, but only 7 advanced to semi’s. The other 4 skipped semi’s and went all the way to finals. And 7 is less than 50% of 19. Even if you take out the 4 teams that went to finals and only count the division as 15 teams, 7 is still (barely) less than 50% of 15.”
This was brilliant. She was absolutely right. It might have been a loophole, but it was right there in the rule book, and I couldn’t think of a single argument against her. We stayed on the bus and road back to the venue.
Once we got there, we waited another 2 hours to talk to the same official. He was visibly unhappy to see us again. I can’t say that I blamed him. He was very busy running a major event. Eventually, he sent someone else to talk to us. We explained the math, just like I did a couple of paragraphs ago. You could see her eyes light up when she understood the technicality that we brought up. “I think you’re right. I need to go check with someone.” And she was gone. About an hour later, and after several phone calls to the corporate office, she came back and told us they were advancing us and the 9th place team (because their score was so close to ours) into semi’s. And there was much rejoicing!
Wrapping up the story, we competed the next day. We performed much better, as did most teams in the division. We moved up a couple of spots which felt pretty validating to the coaches and the team. It was certainly a better feeling than we had when we thought we were out in the prelims.
Also, I want to give out some props to a couple of people for getting things right. First, props to the competition officials. Not only did they get it right, but they were very gracious about it. They even thanked us and complimented us for “doing our job as coaches” and protecting our team’s interests. We got in on a technicality, but how many times has a technicality (penalty for stepping on a sign or stepping out-of-bounds) cost a team a spot in semi’s. It was nice to have a technicality work in our favor this time! But mostly, a great big shout out to the coach who wouldn’t take no for an answer! You trusted your feelings, you did the work and you got it fixed.
Make sure that when you take your teams to compete that you do what this coach did and study the rules back and forth. It can really be the difference between ending your season on a high or a low note.