Back in April, the Daily Times met with Scioto County Career and Technical Center (SCCTC) student Shania Clifford, to congratulate her on winning the first-place gold medal at the State SkillsUSA competition, held in Columbus.
Clifford, a junior in the Masonry program, was supposed to advance to the national competition being held this week in Louisville, Kentucky.
She was also the first female mason to win the state competition, breaking the stereotypes of masonry.
“Traditionally, you don’t think girls in Masonry, you think of the ‘hulking brute’ stereotypes and things like that,” said Superintendent Stan Jennings. “In reality, you have to pay close attention to those details or your bricks aren’t going to look appropriate, they won’t be on bond, there are all sorts of problems that come out.”
Sadly, that dream was taken away from Clifford, and she found she would not be advancing to Nationals.
Clifford was informed through social media, that her third place competitor would be taking her place at the convention.
Larry Moore, Clifford’s instructor, says this is not the first time SkillsUSA has taken a title away from one of his students. A similar incident occurred in 2010, to another junior student of his, a boy. He says about two weeks after the boy won the state competition, his title was also taken away because of a scoring error.
The Daily Times reached out to the Ohio Department of Education, the sponsor of SkillsUSA and received the same reply that Clifford received, from spokesperson Brittany Halpin.
“During the competition, student scores were entered into score sheets by judges. Those scores were then entered into a spreadsheet manually to calculate final scores. When student scores were entered into the final score spreadsheet, an error was made and some scores were inadvertently duplicated, causing some students to receive double the score that they actually received. This error affected results for several students and resulted in the rankings showing an incorrect winner of the competition.”
Although the organization says it was simply a scoring error, Clifford said she doesn’t believe that’s the whole story. She believes there was something going on behind closed doors and may be due to her challenging masonry stereotypes, and sore feelings from other competitors of being beaten by a girl.
“I kind of do feel discriminated against, like it was a gender issue,” Clifford said. “I was a female and I was also a junior that had won state and the boy that is now taking my spot, he’s a senior, and I just feel like he didn’t like being beaten by a girl.”
It’s also important to remember that this isn’t ‘just a competition.’ SkillsUSA gives thousands in scholarships, tools and provides students the chance to meet and impress future employers. For Clifford, it’s a “leg up” in the industry and a credential she would always carry in her trade.
Clifford has received an out-pouring of support from those all over the nation. People from all walks of life have backed her on social media, groups were created in support of Clifford and there is even an online petition circulating, calling on SkillsUSA to make the situation right.
“There’s really no words to describe the way it had made me feel. Those trying to stop me, you are my motivators and I will triumph over anything that is thrown my way. This is only the beginning for me. So kudos to you for trying to put me down, it isn’t going to work,” said Clifford. “This is all overwhelming really but I am excited and really grateful of the support team that I have.”
According to Halpin, “SkillsUSA confirmed that Ohio has followed all policies pertaining to the resolution of errors.”
But this isn’t the end of the road for Clifford. She may not be competing at the National’s but better things are in store.
The Mason Contractors Association of America heard Shania’s story and offered Clifford the opportunity to compete in its national convention next year. Clifford said she plans to attend.
“I figured it’d be a great opportunity to right a wrong,” said Tim O’Toole, association spokesman.
O’Toole is no stranger to Shania’s case, he has contacted the Daily Times in the past to share the articles written about the Masonry program and Clifford’s accomplishments at State.
The Mason Contractors Association of America Convention at the World of Concrete and World of Masonry will take place Jan. 18. The convention includes a masonry skills competition that Clifford now is already entered in. The registration cost of $250 will be waived, O’Toole said. Travel costs will be picked up by the Scioto County Career Technical Center.
The Scioto County Career and Technical Center has received no further comment from SkillsUSA.
Reach Ciara Conley at 740-353-3101 ext 1932, Facebook “Ciara Conley - Daily Times,” and Twitter @PDT_Ciara