We were a rookie team in the Reston tournament at South Lakes HS, and I'm sorry to say, we had an unpleasant experience to the point where I question the value of returning next year.
The volunteer managing the practice board reservations seemed more interested in controlling the reservations board than in helping us find an appropriate reservation time and table. She was insistent that the reservations should follow the clock on the wall, rather than the time on my cell phone, even though these were the same. She and her volunteer colleague always headed our way when a ball or other object was missing from a practice table, and we were made to answer twice each time that we had not taken the pieces. We did not see them following up similarly with other teams. In the afternoon, when the kids were tiring of the constant standing and wanted to sit down in some of the chairs, she ordered them to get up and took away their chairs. When we were leaving the practice table, she would question the kids, "What do you say to the incoming team?"--reminding us to wish them good luck, without so instructing any other team that we could observe, and no other team was similarly considerate or was asked to be so considerate that we could see.
Our kids worked diligently to adapt their robot game strategy to the conditions at the tournament, and increased their score each round, finishing first in their division at the end. The robot game was our team's focus, as important as it was made out to be. With this result, we even thought we might have a great chance for the state tournament, which was beyond our expectations coming in. However, in the awards ceremony, the prize for first place in the robot game was erroneously announced for another team, based on a sloppy clerical error. We knew from the posted scores that we had finished first, and the kids were crestfallen for their accomplishment to be passed over. One of our coaches went to inform the judges of the error, and the organizers announced the mistake, but the damage had been done already. The one thing that our kids had strived for and succeeded in was rendered half-recognized and cheap. Even the team that was initially announced as the winner was confused about it, since they knew the announced score was not theirs, but they also did not inform the judges themselves of the mistake. However, even when the correction was made and the trophy finally given to our kids, the judges then upstaged their accomplishment again by immediately announcing a special award to the other team for returning the award that they had not won, which is ridiculous, with all respect for the other team. A simple thank you would have been proportionately appropriate.
We know this tournament is about the core values, which includes fun and gracious professionalism, but gracious professionalism inherently requires consideration, courtesy and fairness. Our experience was wanting in these traits. This, despite our best efforts to be considerate of the other teams in reaching out to meet them, being prompt in releasing practice tables, and inviting others to have a look at our approach, and thanking the volunteers at the start of the closing ceremony. Quite frankly, we felt unwelcome and unwanted with the entire experience.
Our kids are in FLL for the fun. They can learn their science and engineering in many other activities. They can also find team activities in many other places. They were here, because they enjoy the robot challenge and the thrill of the competition, and they worked hard. The message that came back to us from the organizers was, "We don't care that you made this commitment."
Please don't do this again, to us, if we return, or to any other team. Please be considerate of children who need to sit down. Please don't give the prizes earned by a team to someone else. Please trust us to respect the procedures and systems in place. Please don't harass us for missing pieces when we've told you we haven't taken them. Please treat everyone with kindness and respect.
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