Chapter 5 – Cheaters Do Prosper (Part II)

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“There’s a lot of reasons people cheat,” Frog said. She tossed a lock of her green hair from her shoulders and shrugged dramatically. “In high school all the cheerleaders cheated in one way or another—no, not me, you know that. I didn’t have to… Though, I did go through the motions. You were expected to get help from somewhere, so I dated the proctor of the exams. He was cute, and good in the sack, so I didn’t mind. He was also impeccably honorable. In a way, I was saving one of the other girls from actually failing a test because he wouldn’t show favoritism.

“We spent so much time primping and training for the next show, few of the other girls actually spent any time hitting the books. In order to stay on the squad we had to maintain a minimum of an A minus average. So it was either hit the books or get the book thrown at you. Losing your position on the squad meant taking a blow to reputation and possibly not getting that scholarship to college.”

Elaine’s thumb ran down the names on the page. “So we should segment out the scholarship riders? These are all graduate students in the elite computer engineering program. If they’re anything geek like I am, they have no time for anything other than their studies.

“Nobody geeks like you do.” Frog chuckled. “Still, that’s a good point. Which leads me to the next reason people cheat: to get that edge over the competition. Across the squad, academic cheating was rampant because we just didn’t have time for actual reading-glasses and iPod book study. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t a totally different type of cheating going on…”

Frog trailed off and Elaine caught the hitch in her voice as she recollected her experience. During her senior year, the cheerleading squad had come under suspicion of doping with illegal steroids and, as a member of the lead squad, Frog faced tight scrutiny. The school administrators tried every legal trick they could to lay on the pressure, trying to get the girls to break and give up who was using and who wasn’t. The rest of the school looked at her entire squad like they’d definitely committed a crime, although Elaine knew for a fact that Frog didn’t and wouldn’t dope.

The school’s case rested entirely upon the discovery of a prescription bottle with traces of the chemicals in the girl’s locker room during a secret sweep. Except that nobody on the squad would claim ownership of the bottle and the school couldn’t pin it on anyone. The inability of the administrators to get any of the girls to confess to taking performance drugs caused them to suspend the entire squad based on their suspicions. The fact that the parents of several girls—including Frog’s ACLU attorney mother—moved to block the school from forcing urine tests on the girls only made the situation worse.

The school quickly painted the entire squad as holdouts and marked Frog as the ring leader. An easy leap, seeing as how many of the other cheerleaders looked at her with deep jealousy for her comfortable attitude about her own beauty, her ease with even the most popular boys at the school, and her outsider jock attitude of accepting even the deeply geeky like Elaine. That was the year Frog dyed her hair green and she quit the cheerleading squad—right before the homecoming game.

Through no small sum of legwork between Elaine and Frog, they discovered—and definitively proved—that the bottle actually belonged to several members of the football team. Suspicions still lingered that certain cheerleaders, girlfriends of particular football players, had been involved all along, but the administration couldn’t prove it. And Frog wasn’t about to turn them in if they were.

“You think this is the scholastic version of doping?” Elaine said.

Frog shrugged deeply. “There were twenty of us, only six on the elite squad, but still it mattered what number you had. Some of us were so close in performance that even the smallest edge meant a huge boost in recognition.” When it had all gone down, Elaine knew Frog had been hiding something; even to this day, her friend hadn’t told her the entire story about who might have been taking the drugs or not. At the time, Elaine felt a strong curiosity, a palpable need to close all the facets of the case, but she never asked. The evidence was clear that none of Frog’s squad had any involvement. “A moment of weakness shouldn’t have been enough to hurt my friends. I guess I learned who my friends really were that day.”

Unable to articulate a response, Elaine walked in silence next to her friend. They passed the Memorial Union building and turned towards the dormitories. Birds twittered angrily in the trees at passing students even as they started to fall asleep in the branches of the trees as the sky darkened overhead.

“Let’s just say, sometimes cheaters do prosper,” Frog said. “The only reason why what the dean’s describing seems so strange to me, though, is that so many students are cheating at once. Usually that increases your chances of getting caught by a lot. How many names are on that list?”

Elaine made a quick visual count. “Fourteen.” She paused in thought for a moment. “Isn’t the maximum draft sixteen students? That’s ninety-percent cheaters. I will have to get the remaining two names.”

“Sixteen of how many, though?” Frog asked. “If they’re ‘doping’ there should be a marked difference between these fourteen and all the other applicants. Plus, you don’t cheat in a vacuum, there’s a reason and a method. Each of these fourteen people felt that they needed that extra edge to beat their peers. How they beat them will give an insight into how the cheating works.”

“I’ll have Hadaly run a longitudinal regressive survey of the test results as compared to the University’s selection criteria,” Elaine said. She fished a stick of pocky out of one of her sleeve pockets and crunched into it—raspberry. “Although, that’ll only tell us that they’re cheating but not exactly how they’re cheating. It may take a lot more data mining to determine that.”

“I don’t think that’s enough,” Frog said. “Like I said, cheating doesn’t happen in a vacuum and that’s not going to be in the academic data. We need to actually get into the lives of these fourteen—excuse me, sixteen people and find out what made them apply to the graduate program in the first place. That combined with how they’re connected should give us a picture of how and why they cheated.”

Elaine looked at her friend. “Schema and medium all in one neat package,” she said, sucking on the pocky stick idly for a moment. “Alright, I’ll sic Hadaly on the records tonight and tomorrow we can start staking out the names on the list.”

“Awesome,” Frog said. “I get to wear my desert noir outfit and it’ll mean something. Tan trench coat and sunglasses, baby.”

“That was just an excuse to stalk the names on this list, wasn’t it?” Elaine accused.

Frog put up her hands. “Caught me.”

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