COVID-19 Contributes to Cancellation of STN Competition


Travis Sherman

Photo contributed by Sam Lewandowski

In Washington D.C. twelve television students are stuffed into one single hotel room as they wait for registration to open at five o’clock p.m., five and a half hours away. They are in D.C. to attend the Student Television Network, also known as STN. This is an annual national competition and the location changes each year. 

Although this year STN was abruptly cancelled without any forewaring to the members attending the event.

Right at about 5pm, we received an email from the convention stating that “There has been a state of emergency declared and there can not be any conventions held with more than 100 people. So they were forced to cancel this year’s STN’,” Television teacher Travis Sherman said.

The attendees did acknowledge the possibility of cancellation due to the increasing percent of citizens diagnosed with COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) in the United States. But they were reassured multiple times that the convention would proceed as planned.

STN was VERY positive. They released statements from the Mayor, they told everyone the convention was going on as planned. They talked with the hotel and had hand sanitizer dispensers everywhere, the rooms would be cleaned daily. So it seemed as though all precautions were set in place and we would be fine,” Sherman said.

 Washington D.C. issued a state of emergency March 11th 2020, the day the attendees arrived and that is what ultimately led to the abrupt cancellation. This announcement came as a surprise to many of the people attending STN. Those attending the convention from out of state and all over the country, were able to experience the progression and treatment of this now pandemic.

I was in total disbelief. As a school, we spent roughly $15,000 to get there, and there were a lot of other schools that spent much more. We are talking millions of dollars as a convention,” Sherman said. “So for them to cancel something this big, I think that’s when it finally hit home that  this is a very serious situation we as a country and world are dealing with.”

Sherman and his students were now faced with the issue or what to do next. How to make it back to Arkansas while also avoiding exposure to the highly contagious COVID-!9. The staff working gave hardly any information on how the students and advisors were supposed to make it back home.

“When they sent out the email, it ended with ‘All teachers, please come meet at the registration booth and we will have a representative there to speak with you and answer any questions’.” Sherman said.

 Sheman decided to take the advice givin throught the email and immediately went to met with a representative.

“She said “We are so sorry, and devastated”,” Sherman said. “At first I was understanding, I mean, what can you do if the government cancels your event. But then I started asking questions. ‘So what happens from here?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Are we allowed to stay in the hotel still?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘What about flights home, how do we fly back?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Will we get refunded?’ ‘I don’t know.” I mean it was literally, zero information. That was probably the most frustrating part. A representative that had zero information,” Sherman said

Sherman then received a direct order from Doctor Rollins which specified that all 11 students had to be home by the next day, March 12th. This order made the daunting search for flights inevitable.

 “Thank god, we booked as a group. That was the first time I chose to book as a group in the seven years we have been doing this convention. So I called, after 45 minutes I finally got someone on the line and she immediately said, ‘Wrong department, I’ll transfer you’. So I spent another 30 minutes on hold waiting for someone. Finally I got a representative and explained that we were going to a convention, a state of emergency was declared, the convention was cancelled, I’m here with 11 other students, we need to get back home tomorrow,” Shermans said.

Costs would now become the main issue that the group faced. With only a limited amount of money to spend and a limited amount of available flight to Arkansas, the decisions on what flights to take while still being cost efficient was dwindling. 

  “She found a flight and said she was going to waive the transfer fee of $260, but each ticket would cost an additional $500 for a new total of over $5000,” Sherman said. “There is no way we can do that. So she put me on hold, then she came back and said, ‘can you do $250 per ticket,’ and again I said, ‘that’s very generous, but I don’t think that’s possible either.’ She put me on hold again, and then came back and said ‘Don’t worry, we won’t charge you.’”

With flights now booked many of the students many of the students began to worry about missing school.

“ My biggest concern was if we would be able to get back home and if we did what security risks would be taken. At that point school hadn’t been moved online yet so I was concerned about potentially missing two weeks for quarantine or something like that,” junior Sam Lewandowski said.

Students came from all over the United States, some traveling almost 5,000 miles to attend this competition, only to have it canceled the same day as registration. This realization caused Sherman to step back and look at the consequences of STN’s  actions. 

“I would want the organizers to know that look who you’re hurting. Some schools, like Hawaii, are very gifted. They have a budget, they have donations, they don’t have to pay to go to STN. Many schools, like Har-Ber, have to raise that money, it has to come out of their own pocket. Each student would have spent about $1100 in total after everything,” Sherman said. “That’s a lot of money, especially for Springdale, Arkansas. These students take AP classes, work jobs after school, shoot projects on the weekend, it’s really not fair to them. If they don’t get the opportunity to be there, why would they not get a refund? Think about the impact you’re having on students and try to gain a little bit back about why you started the convention in the first place.”

This was the last opportunity for seven seniors to attend STN or possibly any high school film competition. 

“This being my last year, I was torn. This is a big deal and a personal thing for film students who attend at HBHS, it was just devastating,” senior Graham Smith said.