BATH, Maine — The Morse Shipbuilders and the Bath High School Alumni Association had a winner — they thought.
Just moments after Thursday’s 3 p.m. voting deadline, alumni spokesman Troy Cunningham confirmed Morse had won the Region I championship in the USA Today competition for top mascot.
The victory would put Morse into the national championships, which were to begin today.
Not so fast.
In an email sent less than an hour later, Cunningham announced that, because of a technical glitch, USA Today had extended voting to resume on Monday and go through to Wednesday, “in order to be fair to everyone.”
“I’d like to think we had nipped this one in the bud,” Cunningham said. “I’m still very proud, but this is what’s going on.”
Jamie Kopf, a call center representative with USA Today publisher Gannett, said Thursday there were “significant technical difficulties” with the voting website.
“There were lots of complaints the votes were not accepted, and huge lines,” Kopf said.
At Thursday’s 3 p.m. deadline, Morse led with 1,092,633 votes — about 10,000 more than the second-place Kingswood Oxford Wyverns — in what had amounted to a two-way race for the Region I championship.
Cunningham, who helped coordinate a worldwide voting effort among Morse alums, was thrilled.
“I just got the numbers,” said Cunningham, who said he voted thousands of times at contest.usatodayhss.com. “To me it feels like I was back in the ’80s, watching the basketball games. It’s that sort of adrenaline.”
The Bath High School Alumni Association is the oldest high school alumni association in the country. The Shipbuilder mascot, of course, is an homage to Bath’s boat-building heritage.
Brian Hatch, 1968 Morse alum and assistant principal and athletic director from 1998 to 2006, said a win would be nice.
“It would help out the athletic department,” he said. “But it’s really about Shipbuilder pride. It’s energized the alumni of all ages.”
Hatch said alumni are proud of their Shipbuilders — if sometimes at a loss to find an example of one.
Hatch said he often thought about establishing a concrete Shipbuilders logo, “but I couldn’t hang my hat on the definitive symbol. Should it be a man dressed as a pipe fitter, a welder, an engineer? Should it be a woman dressed as Rosie the Riveter?”
“I couldn’t decide. I guess this is because I truly believe we in the Morse community are a melting pot of what shipbuilders are. They are blue-collar laborers, they are white-collar engineers, they are craftspeople, they are dedicated to building the best and being the best.”
Kingswood Oxford is an elite private school of 500 students in West Hartford, Conn. Morse, a public high school, has 640 students.
Kingswood Oxford’s wyvern is a legendary winged creature with a dragon’s head, reptilian body and a barbed tail. Depending on the culture, wyverns breathe fire or possess a venomous bite.
Six regional winners originally were to compete March 15-25 for the chance to be named the best high school sports mascot in America. That round of voting will now be March 21-27.
The winner will receive $2,000 for its athletic department. Second place is $1,000, with $500 for third, $250 for fourth and $100 for fifth.
Morse, which won the Maine championship, was pitted against Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Jersey in the Region I contest.
Cunningham, a real estate agent who lives in Florida, said hundreds of Morse alumni around the world cast votes.
“It’s been persistence, persistence, persistence — we spread the word and keep going,” he said. “We’re talking about our school, our heritage, our tradition.”
Linda Koehling of West Bath, a 1966 Morse grad, was in on the fun.
“I’d like to see them win — I certainly would,” she said. “That would be cool. Now I’ve got to go vote some more!”
Times Record Features Editor Rachel Shelly contributed to this report.