A Norris Middle School mother is upset because even though her son and two of his peers placed first in a science competition held earlier this month, they won't be allowed to participate in the national competition in Washington, D.C.
Sreedevi Gopalan, mother of 12-year-old Krish, said parents found out moments after an announcer named Krish, Cole Ford and Paige Villicano as winners of the Central Coast Regional Middle School Science Bowl that the team could not advance to the national level because they were a team of three instead of four participants.
"I don't know why they are doing this," Sreedevi Gopalan said.
A judge informed the coach and students after the contest that rules stipulated that although they could participate in the competition, they could not advance to the next level as a team of three.
"If they had told me a day before, we wouldn't have gone to the competition," Sreedevi Gopalan said.
Her husband, Sowmya Gopalan, drove about eight hours from a job in Lakeport to attend the competition held March 1 .
"My son told his dad, "You make it because I'm going to win this," Sreedevi Gopalan said.
Krish had practiced at his school twice a week for three weeks and hours each day at home.
"For two, three hours a day, he practiced," his mother said.
In the days before the competition, he woke up at 5 a.m. to practice.
"He was really excited," Gopalan said.
The family arrived at the competition, held at Arroyo Grande High School in San Luis Obispo County, and watched Krish and his teammates outscore competitors in seven consecutive rounds of questioning in biology, chemistry, Earth and space science, physics and math.
Krish, Cole and Paige won the regional competition.
"It was really, really exciting," Sreedevi Gopalan said.
His mother was celebrating and meeting other parents in the crowd when a judge called her son, teammates and coach to a quick meeting. Sreedevi Gopalan said Krish's sister followed the group.
"Then my daughter came to me with tears in her eyes," she said.
The judge had informed the group of a rule that stipulates teams must have four members to compete at the nationals.
Dirk Fillpot, a spokesman with the science office of the U.S. Energy Department, which holds the national competition, released a statement Friday:
"We are sorry to hear of the team's disappointment, but the requirement to have four team members is one of the rules to which the team's coach agreed when they registered to compete in the National Science Bowl along with every other team nationwide, and understood that fielding a team with only three members would make them ineligible to advance to the national finals if they won."
A three-member team participated in the national contest about 10 years ago, when the group learned that one of its members had cancelled without notification.
The team was allowed to compete in the preliminary round but not elimination rounds.
The office of science added that the coach of the Norris team alerted the regional coordinator via email the day before the competition that one of the students would be unable to participate. The coach, Andrew Stephens, requested that the team be allowed to compete with three members.
The regional coordinator granted the request, and the coach was advised that if the three participants progressed to the final round and won, the group could not advance to the National Science Bowl.
"Out of fairness to the other teams that competed in regionals nationwide, we cannot make exceptions to this rule as there likely were other teams who decided to not compete in regional tournaments if one member was going to be absent knowing they could not advance to the national finals," Fillpot said.
Sowmya Gopalan has been petitioning an organizing council to change the rules.
Darren Grisham, the Norris principal, said the council will consider the four-person requirement this summer.
Grisham said he supports all Norris students but he understands that national organizers cannot change contest rules during a competition season.
In the meantime, the national contest has agreed to pay for Krish, Cole and Paige to attend the competition in D.C.
The second-place team, also Norris Middle School students, plans to participate in the national event April 24-28.
"I'm so very thrilled and excited and proud as a principal of the school," Grisham said.