Con team switch-off raises questions


Amelia Diana

Unit Three of the 2016-17 Constitution Team prepares to compete at the state competition at the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse Jan. 21. The team placed second, behind Grant, marking the ninth year in a row the two schools have switched off victories.

Over the past 30 years, Constitution Team has brought both Lincoln and Grant high schools widespread recognition for their successes at both the state and national level. With so much success comes  inevitable speculation.

During that time, the two schools have been the only two teams to win the state competition in Oregon. Over the last nine years, both Lincoln and Grant have taken turns winning the competition at the state level and representing Oregon at the national level. While seemingly coincidental, some believe there’s a less obvious reason behind this bizarre switch-off.

Those involved in running the competition feel strongly that the program is built fair and honest with safeguards against slanted or prejudiced results. Others, however, believe that over time, the competition’s judging system may have unintentionally allowed some built-in favoritism.

The Cardinal Times decided to explore the validity of the rigging claims by looking into that system, as anything beyond the hard facts of how the event is judged would be merely speculation.

One of the flaws identified by some is the idea of assigning colors to schools rather than identifying them by their school name.

The creators of the Constitution Team competitions are proud of this color system, seeing it as one of their safeguards to prevent rigging and dishonest judging.

Barbara Rost, Program Director of Constitution Team, said that “at state, teams are designated by a color.” This year, Lincoln was designated as “Salmon.” She continues to say that “judges don’t even get the same program as the teams do. They are only listed as colors” and the room in which that color is located.

But Jude Soldati, 2016-2017 Lincoln Constitution Team member, argued that stance, saying that “Lincoln’s color to remain anonymous was salmon, and it was salmon last year. Grant’s color was pink, which was the same thing last year, too.”

The Cardinal Times was able to independently confirm that Lincoln’s color has been salmon not only the past two years, but the past three. Grant’s color been the same the past two years.

This color system was designed to keep the teams completely anonymous from the judges, but the failure to change  the colors from year to year is a crucial flaw in the system, allowing the judges to know which team is which, as long as they know the color coordination from the previous year.

Lincoln’s color also symbolizes something unique the school, making it easier to differentiate the school from the color. Lincoln’s address is 1600 S.W. Salmon St.

When asked if the colors change each year, Rost was unclear, replying “Um, I think? Sometimes.” She later stated that the lack of changing the color was due to this year’s severe weather problems. She said the time to prepare for the competition was delayed so much that they didn’t have time to change the colors in the program. Although, Rost later commented that “The preparation is year long; it never stops.”

Both Soldati and another Lincoln team member, Joe Schlechter, mentioned that their coaches prepared them to lose the competition before the results were ever released. Team members would call this year an “off year,” due to the pattern in the state competition that they were likely to lose to Grant this year.

“There was a difference in speeches given between the award ceremony at the competition as compared to ‘on-years,’” Schlechter stated. “It seems like a very established pattern. The way the rules work, it’s not hard for it to be rigged.”

Soldati also said that “One of the coaches gave a speech this year which prepared us to lose, last year they didn’t, but the year before they did.” The Cardinal Times could not independently corroborate this change in speeches.

Peyton Chapman, Lincoln’s principal, was also present in Lincoln’s room when being judged, making it easy for judges to recognize her and Lincoln as the team they were judging.

Over the years, the team that represents Oregon at the national competition tends to win overall, whether it’s Lincoln or Grant. The ability to only have one team represent the state makes it hard to judge, since both teams have excelled nationally many times before.

Others believe the idea that Constitution Team judging is rigged is “preposterous” and “ludicrous,” as Rost said.

A Constitution Team alumni from the 2014-2015 season, another “off-year,” senior Charlie Gardner, strongly believes that the system is not rigged. He argues that “The judges at state are usually congresspeople, judges, political reporters, or district attorneys” and that “The judges aren’t the same every year.”

Although, some judges work at the competitions for many years, while others are exchanged after one year.

Rost agreed with Gardner’s point, saying that the judges are people who are “fair and unbiased.”

During an interview, she pointedly asked if reporters had seen a list of the judges, who she believes have unassailable credentials. “The chief justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, for example. Professors from various law schools and local universities. The top law firms in the state. Those are our judges. I think a look at who they are shows that they’re fair and unbiased.”

Although the judges are highly respected, some argued there’s still a chance that they may unknowingly be biased to a specific team. Even though they may have no malicious intent, it’s hard for anyone to be completely unbiased in any situation, even in crucial ones such as Constitution Team competitions.

Others have also critiqued the rigging claim by stating that additional practice is the reason behind the nine year switch-off between Lincoln and Grant. Gardner says that “The team that gets second at state gets to start preparing for the next year’s team in February.” That gives it a head start over the team that goes to nationals, which can’t begin preparations until May, when the competition is over.

However, when the final scores come down to minimal win margin, it seems that the extended time they have to prepare becomes irrelevant. Lincoln coaches have a pact that they won’t release the scores they earned to their students, even after decades have passed. Therefore, there is no way to know whether or not the scores support rigging in the system.

While Soldati has his suspicions, he allows that it’s hard to prove them. “Whether it was rigged or not, no one can say for certain. There is evidence to support both sides, whether it’s rigged or not.”

“I think a lot of the members that supported the idea that Constitution Team was rigged needed a way to cope with losing and needed to believe something other than the fact that we lost.”

EXTRA: Underdog teams gain ground in Con Team competition

Despite only Lincoln and Grant winning state the past 30 years, other schools have created teams that are on the rise. 2016-2017 marks the first year that Cleveland joined the competition. In their first year, the team made it past regionals and all the way to state.


Cleveland coach, Sadie Adams, remarked that “our team was hoping to make it through Regionals. It was absolutely amazing that we made it to State our first year.” She later commented that she’s equally as proud of the students who placed at state as her “students here at Cleveland who worked just as hard, but didn’t place as high.”

-Kayla Rae and Alex Paskill