1. Shania Clifford, 17, won a gold medal in the SkillsUSA Ohio masonry competition in late April, but she found in May (via Facebook!) that she would not be representing her area in the next stage of the competition, a national level leadership and skills competition. Instead, the young man who initially came third in the competition would:
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.
The Mason Contractors Association of America, after hearing about this mess, offered Clifford a chance to compete in its national competition next year:
"I figured it'd be a great opportunity to right a wrong," said Tim O'Toole, association spokesman.
Hmm. I'd dearly love to know more about that error made in entering the scores, especially if there were no errors in the judges' scoring sheets.
My point is this: It's not impossible that a weird kind of scoring mistake would occur at the same time as another rather unusual event: A girl wins the masonry competition. But because I can easily see other reasons than a scoring error which would explain that sudden reversal in the rankings, a more precise explanation about the type of error, how it happened, and which competitors it affected is necessary.
In the absence of such an explanation I'd temporarily go for the sexism explanation:
Instead of viewing Shania Clifford as just an individual who has studied and worked hard in her chosen field, someone in power may have seen her as a symbol of all womanhood stomping into an area carefully colored male for all times. And not only that, she beat the guys in their game! This, my friends, is simply not acceptable. It is humiliating.
I can imagine someone feeling an existential threat of that type, a threat which must be snuffed in the bud. Then we get scoring errors to reach the right conclusion, and the day is saved.
Note, also that this is an example of what works to keep women away from the traditionally male blue-collar occupations, so that the Men's Rights Activists can keep telling us that women don't want to do the nasty menz jobs but just want all the nice menz benefits. What could be more humiliating than to win the competition and then to hear, via Facebook (!), that the victory has been canceled?
On the other hand, the nice gesture of the Mason Contractors Association of America makes me feel more optimistic about the future. Clifford is a person, not a symbol of any of that wider stuff, and she should be treated with the respect any other competitor receives.