BILLINGS — Well, the Chinook Sugarbeeters can't definitively say they have the best high school football helmet in the country.
But they can claim to have one of the top eight after organizers of the national high school football helmet logo tournament making the rounds on Twitter abruptly canceled their tourney early Friday afternoon due to what was called “vote tampering issues.”
The Sugarbeeters’ helmet was among the final eight in the country when the online tournament was called off. Glasgow, Montana’s other representative in the tournament, was eliminated earlier in the week in the round of 16.
State and the national helmet tournaments were run by volunteers around the country. Helmets from various schools were pitted against one another, and Twitter followers could vote on which helmet they liked the best, advancing the winners to the next round.
The tournaments were “meant to be fun for people during a stressful time without sports,” national tournament organizers wrote on their Twitter account (@hshelmettourney), and they largely succeeded.
More than 60,000 votes were cast in the Montana state tournament, which featured 139 helmets. Forty-five states participated overall and by the end, more than 2.5 million votes had been cast in all the state tournaments combined, according to Gus O’Keefe, a Helena native and Bozeman resident, who ran the Montana state tournament and served on the national committee.
O’Keefe, who volunteered many hours by tracking down logos for the Montana helmets and designing mockups to use in the Twitter voting, wrote on his Twitter account: “A sad day in the tourney world. Montana, I am so appreciative and blown away by your support for @BeetersFootball and @ScottieFootball. While I am sad this has come to an end, I think it’s important to reflect on the fun this brought during a tough time for our state and nation.”
O’Keefe said 152,000 votes had been cast in the national tournament before the round of eight began late Wednesday afternoon.
By Thursday, organizers noticed discrepancies in one poll where the teams had a 50-50 split. Then, at some point the voting began skewing 85% to 15% towards one of the teams, which raised the first red flag. The tournament announced it was eliminating that stretch of votes, which in turn brought a lot of negative comments to the organizers, according to O’Keefe.
By Friday morning, O’Keefe said, there were suspicious stretches in several of the head-to-head helmet polls. Buying votes on Twitter is easy and inexpensive, and because several polls were now compromised, the results had to be invalidated, O’Keefe said.
As a result, national tournament organizers Tweeted “we don’t believe we can continue in that spirit of fairness and fun” and decided to cancel the tournament. “We hope to return in future years once we establish a system of voting with more accountability. We hope you’ll join us then,” organizers concluded.
Please read the following statement from the National Committee. We apologize to all of those voters who did so responsibly. We will hopefully be back in the future if we can assure a great tournament to the end. Thank your for your support during the tournament. pic.twitter.com/TZajMU4Rgu— National Helmet Tournament (@hshelmettourney) June 26, 2020
Pennsylvania launched the first state helmet tournament on March 30. Iowa held a tournament shortly thereafter and took the initiative to take the competition nationwide.
O’Keefe helped launch Montana’s tourney on May 5. Glasgow defeated Chinook in the state final and Chinook later earned an at-large berth for the national tournament.
Email Mike Scherting at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsSchert
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