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Score One for Honesty

The triumph of giving up a victory that wasn’t earned

By Dave Collins as told to Greg Johnson

Whenever we swim against Drury University, it draws excitement in Springfield, Missouri. Drury and Missouri State University are eight blocks apart, and the meets are televised locally.

I swam at Drury for Brian Reynolds, who is the current head coach there, and the Panthers have had a ton of success. They went on a run where the men’s squad won 10 Division II national titles in a row. At Missouri State, we’ve also had a lot of success in sending swimmers to the NCAA championships.

When Division I and Division II teams compete against each other, it is usually in an exhibition and not regular season. When we swim against Drury, you throw the Division I and Division II labels out the window. We just look at it as two really good, and evenly matched, swim teams. It makes for a great rivalry, and the meets are always close. I would say four or five times in recent years, the meet has come down to the last relay race.

Last January, we went into the men’s portion of the meet thinking it was going to be close. The score was back and forth throughout the meet. We knew it would come down to a tight finish. At the end of the last relay, we were winning by a point.

There was a lot of joy and excitement from our side. We met with our swimmers and congratulated them and told them, “Great job.” We felt it was mission accomplished.

Our coaching staff carpooled over to Drury that day, and on the way back we were talking about how our projections on the meet didn’t go quite the way we thought they would. When I got home, I looked at the scores to see how everything took place. I rescored the meet to see where we made up some ground in different events. Then I came across a scoring error in the 200-yard freestyle, which was the third event of the meet.

In a dual-meet format, a maximum of three athletes can score in an event. There is a button that needs to be clicked in the timing system to make sure that takes place. I guess that button wasn’t clicked, and it scored four of our guys and only one of their guys. One point was given to us instead of to Drury. So even though our fourth swimmer was faster, only three of our guys could be scored. That is where the one-point swing took place.

It was 10:30 at night when I found out that we didn’t win the meet. I knew we shouldn’t take credit for something we didn’t do. I called my former coach, and I think I woke him up. I told him what I found in the scoring and congratulated him on his team winning the meet by a point. Then we contacted the sports information departments to get the results rectified.

As you can imagine, there was a lot of confusion. Everyone takes a lot of pride in the event, and it is a goal of our team to win that meet against Drury. The hardest part was addressing my team at practice — at least, I thought it would be the hardest part. But when I gathered the swimmers to explain the situation, it turned out to be easy. I told them what I’d found and what I had done. I was nervous that they would be mad. Their reaction was the opposite.

The best part was, while I was telling them what happened, many of the members of the team were nodding their heads in agreement that this was the right thing to do, since we didn’t win the meet. They didn’t want to take credit for a victory that they didn’t earn. It is a good lesson for everyone involved. Sometimes you must take the competitiveness out of it and remember that we are in the business of educating young people. I was very proud of my team.

We then jumped in the water and had one of our best practices of the season. I want the athletes on this team to graduate with an education, and that encompasses a lot of things. We talk a lot about handling the ups and downs, and how you deal with failures and success. This was a good example of learning how to deal with something that didn’t go our way.

Dave Collins is in his fifth year as men’s and women’s swimming and diving coach at Missouri State University. He earned his bachelor’s degree in design arts from the school’s neighborhood rival, Drury University, where he was an Academic All-American and won two team national titles.

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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