I don't know that I have the magic bullet solution, but here are some ideas:
- Adjusting the regions to be a bit more balanced.
- Having a regional competition, comprised of all-star teams from each region, and then regular age group sessions that are comprised of everyone else who qualifies in some semi-fair way, such as a minimum score, or overall top X kids per age group across all regions. Yes, scoring might be different, but maybe that can be addressed by flying judges to different regions, having more judges, or some other solution.
- Having a way for some kids to pre-qualify through a consistently excellent season. This would not be my dd this year, but I think that if a kid scores 38+ say three or four times in a season, she should get an automatic bid to Nationals. Again, Nationals is supposed to be the best of the best, and this would help ensure this.
- Maybe just make fewer age groups with more girls in each. Maybe one group with 8th grade and younger, one with 9th and 10th graders, and one with 11th and 12th graders. This would at least, mathematically, make things more even by eliminating this situation where some girls just go through their entire careers with a small number of super strong athletes with very close birthdays.
I recognize that it's hard, and there's no perfect solution, but I think there is a better solution. The wild card (now called 'all star' I think) helps and shows that improvement can happen. I don't think that fairness around placements and awards matters much at all, but more fairness around who qualifies to nationals would be a worthwhile effort, IMHO.