Speech and Debate Tournament Series – A Novice Perspective (part 4)


I asked a couple “novice” friends, in other words, a beginning speech students, to recollect on their first year. This was their very first competitive experience with Speech and Debate (not counting junior tournaments). This was their experience and perspective on the tournaments they participated in their first year…

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Speech and Debate Tournament Series- Fundraising (part 2)

In our last article we discussed the costs of a typical Speech and Debate Tournament. I know quite a few families that budget their season and each year they do fundraising to pay or help pay for their costs. Below is an article written by one of our competitor interns that fund raises for their tournament expenses- travel, registration, clothing, etc.

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Speech and Debate Tournament Series- Costs (part 1)

“Tournaments are exciting, yet challenging and expensive in terms of time, money, and energy. But, after you see the growth, maturity, and enjoyment of your son/daughter, you will find that the costs are worth it. I did not understand what a tournament entailed until I attended my first one: in the dead of winter with -30 degree wind chills, with my whole family (six children aged 4 – 15) packed in the car driving for 5 hours to Bloomington, IN.”

This is the account of Nancy Chu, Speech and Debate mom in her first year of learning the ropes and navigating the costs of a Speech and Debate Tournament. Heather Neumann also will be chiming in with her guidance on how to cut costs of Speech and Debate Tournaments…

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Approaching Regionals in a Manner that Glorifies God

Post-season play is always exciting on a whole different level, isn’t it?  There is the thrill of just being part of that playoff season, and there is much more at stake every time you take the field.  If your sport is speech and debate, the same is true as you approach regionals….and there is a proper way to approach your post-season if our mission is truly to glorify God.

First of all, be glad.  Wear the thrill of being there all over your face, and enjoy – really enjoy – the fact that you are there.  Your Regional Invitational Championship is invitational  – you’ve had to earn your way there.  Don’t lose the weight of that!  Don’t forget that you’ve competed well just to be there! While I never advocate gloating, I do think it’s important to recognize that attending the regional championship IS an accomplishment in itself.  Many seasoned competitors forget that.  They treat regionals as that next tournament on the way to Nationals, and frankly, if that is your mental attitude, you are making some big mistakes.  Approaching Regionals in a manner that glorifies God means starting with “it is good” to be here!  THIS is GOOD.  Hold that thought.  Dwell there.

Regionals is the end of your season with your regional friends.  Most of our NCFCA regions kick off this last tournament by acknowledging their graduating seniors.  There are always one or two who aren’t even there at the tournament.  There are always a few who will be a tremendous loss of leadership to your region when they’ve moved on.  Once the tournament is over, you may not see many of your speech or debate friends for months!  So, recognize the closure that this tournament brings to the season.  Soak up the time you have with these friends at this stage in your life.  Make happy memories that you will look back to years from now.  I promise, the funny moments from the student hangout will glow longer in your mind than any walk across the stage.  The people you share this tournament with have helped you be there.  They’ve sharpened and challenged and judged you to make you better.  Be in it WITH them.  Fellowship deeply and rejoice in the relationships you’ve built.

Regionals is also a tournament designed to reduce the competitive field.  You can think of it as the ultimate semi-finals!  Every round matters so much.  One mistake I think many people make – both competitors AND parent judges – is to look beyond those rounds to the larger chess game of moving pieces – especially, I fear, on the debate side of the house.  At this stage, I think the big-picture perspective can be harmful.  All of us, parents and students alike, think we know who our “best” people are.  We think we know who we should send to nationals, and we are sorely tempted to expect the pieces to fall just that way.  But at Regional Championships, every round is its own battle.  Every round must be approached, competed, and judged on its own merits.  It must!  If an underdog has worked and worked and arrived much improved, I want that weighed in.  If a seasoned veteran is cavalier enough to think s/he can win on ethos alone, I beg to differ.  Because the stakes are higher at regionals, there always seems to be a good bit of “clutching” on the part of BOTH students and parents at what are perceived to be “my” slots.  We cannot approach this tournament this way if we are indeed trying to glorify God.  All of the regional slots to nationals are up for grabs in every round.  If you are looking at the whole chess board and who has to get where so this or that can happen over here, you lose sight of your mission in your own round.  Speakers, you have to get all the small things together for every single presentation.  Parents, you have to judge small things happening right here, today, in this round.  We all have to shut out yesterday as well as tomorrow and be present in the NOW to compete with excellence at Regionals.

So, do we forget the big picture?  No.  AFTER the rounds are over, then we all must step back and take that larger perspective.  Every year unexpected and wonderful things happen at regionals.  They do!   Every year there is that one surprise person who gets in there with a slot to nationals – the one nobody saw coming.  There is both cheering and sneering in the wake of this:  cheering on the part of a family who may be seeing real success for the first time, and sneering on the part of those who were “clutching” that slot earlier, claiming it as their own and feeling that they deserved it and it’s been unfairly snatched away from them.  Approaching Regionals in a manner that glorifies God means being ready to be one of those who is cheering no matter who wins the slot.  It means admitting that God knows what He purposes to do with all of your hard work from the season and all of the hard work of those other students too.  It means – now that we know who has won slots – trusting that God knows what He is doing, even if judges don’t!  Glorifying God here means really letting Him, not us, have the glory of this moment.  THAT is exceedingly hard and our response will be impossible to camouflage or justify away with any amount of rhetoric.  It will be painfully obvious whether you fall into the cheering or sneering camp!

And, every year at regionals, there are disappointments.  There is an end of the road for the speech you DID work hard on that didn’t win a slot.  There is bitter regret over the one mistake or the one thing you should have remembered.  Those disappointments are going to sting for a while.  If you are not feeling them, then I guarantee some of your friends are.  And they hurt.  They do.  Be honest about that, but don’t be self-indulgent.  Don’t wallow.  Wait to see what your ballots said.  Expect that God is doing something in your world that is bigger than this.  It is very easy to see NCFCA as your whole world when you are staring at a loss at Regionals, or when you are ONE person below the line where the slots were given and you know it won’t roll down.  It’s easy for me as a grown up to say, “let it go…buck up…see past this.”  I am years beyond high school speech and debate!  Some of my own children are years beyond high school speech and debate!  There IS life, lots of it, beyond high school speech and debate!  But I know too, that such words don’t soften or appease those disappointments.  They actually hurt.

What I DO know is that being self-focused is not the way in which we glorify God.  Not ever.  As parents and as students we have a lot of our own persons at stake when it comes to Regionals.  If we are truly going to approach it in a manner that glorifies God, let us relish the joy of being there, let us run with excellence every round we face, let us respect the providential results in a way that proves we are truly HIS and not our own.

Wishing you ALL well this season!

Parents Perspective- NC- Largest NCFCA Qualifier

Almost 400 competitors.

Over 50 staff.

128 timer people.

11 different speech categories

3 types of debate

1000’s of judge slots

Heather says: Have you ever thought about how many different perspectives goes on in a Speech and Debate Tournament? I usually work- seeing the tournament from whatever perspective I am in, or where I am at. This time I judged, witnessing things I might not typically see. However, God is working through us all- students, parents, staff, the facility workers, community judges, etc. It takes a community of people to do what we do! Because I judged this tournament- seeing it from a new perspective, and I was reminded how we each have our own perspective. I watched nervous competitors walk into rooms, I saw kids praying with each other, I saw stressful situations, I sat with other parents while filling out ballots, I had conversations that touched me, I saw tears, I saw joy…Through it all God was there. It’s always nice to get a new perspective, but I think sometimes I know I need to remember- my perspective isn’t the only one.

Kristi says: In North Carolina I judged a LOT. And I learned some things that informed me, inspired me, delighted me, challenged me. Mostly, what I learned is that there are a LOT of kids out there who are working hard for a better
future. They are preparing themselves to be researchers, policy makers, and
leaders who are governed by values that transcend today’s desires. I
learned anew how much I love investing in that effort with my own feeble
attempts to help them along the way by writing ballots. I learned that kids
can get to my heart faster than anything else. And I learned that there are
lots of other moms and dads out there talking, talking, talking to today’s
youth, pouring heart and soul into encouraging them, and coming together as
a big community to stand together for what is hopeful.

We asked friends from around the country…

What did God reveal to you while at one of the largest Speech and Debate Qualifiers this season?

V- (parent)- I saw again this year what a “family” NCFCA is to us. I served on staff and arrived later than I had planned. The teenage son of dear church friends had fallen 50 feet from a cliff in a terrible hiking accident on Sat before the tournament was to begin on Monday. He lay unconscious and in critical condition in the hospital. During the tournament week, my husband called to tell me that another close friend had died of melanoma–not a complete surprise–but much sooner than expected. This friend also had teenage sons. So our church (and particularly our youth group) was really hurting.

All that to say, the burdens I was bearing–with and for my church family–were also shouldered during the tournament week by my NCFCA family. My staff group cried out to God with me for my dear friends at home. They also tenderly prayed for me–that I could complete the tasks the Lord had given me to do in Black Mountain. Most graciously, they offered to cover my tasks if I needed to leave.

I’m always telling my students and our club members that NCFCA isn’t just about the competition. It isn’t even just about learning communication skills. But God reminded me of that reality again in a powerful way at Black Mountain by giving me sisters in Christ who fulfilled the command to “bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ.”

S- (parent)- Although it is easy to be swept away into the excitement of competition, once again I was reminded of why we participate in NCFCA. Our children are stepping into a terribly confused and desperate world. The purpose of this speech and debate training is so our children will be well prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks them to give the reason for the hope they have — and to do so with gentleness and respect.

J- (parent)- Stepping out of your comfort zone! Trying something new and trusting the Lord will provide the means, the way, and the joy. You just have to put in the effort, let go of the outcome, and give the glory to God.

V- (parent)- As I walked the grounds of Ridgecrest, during the National Open, I was struck by the overwhelming love of the kids praying for one another, in little alcoves, outside doors, and then in a massive group hug, our Region, prior to the awards ceremony. Two pervasive thoughts ran through my head: (1) Proverbs 16:3 Commit your works to the LORD, and your thoughts shall be established. and (2) And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? God is at work in NCFCA in raising up the remnant of believers to have His heart, His truth and His voice. Just as Moses was given a voice through Aaron, NCFCA is raising up God-loving believers as orators of the Truth in a lost world. What I witnessed in North Carolina was a real, tangible example of Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound. NCFCA is raising up Kingdom builders, that love God, one another and speak truth to a world where relativism and deception abound.

S- (parent)- I think what I most learned pertained to my own children. I got to see their character in action. I got to see them respond to trials, I got to see how much they can press through and when they need to stop and recharge. Being amongst fellow believers on a big but safe campus really allowed me to give my kids a bit more space and watch how they handled it. I judged continuously, but checked in with the little kids and big sis babysitter between rounds. I also got to watch other people’s children and see how they responded to trials. NCFCA kids are very impressive; they aren’t perfect but none of us are. I am most impressed by students who are aware of their surroundings and want to engage the world for God’s sake. Students, who stand out, are the ones who greet moms on the sidewalks or who befriend future competitors or novices. Students who see beyond the moment and spread God’s love wherever they are the ones which lead me to lift up praise to our Lord. Engaging like this is so so challenging for introverted children like mine, but it’s what the Lord calls us to, and I challenge my children that they are being prideful if they succumb to protecting themselves in an introverted fashion when the should be reaching out to share the love of Christ. May God give us grace to keep growing in love toward one another and Him!

A- (parent)- A LOT! From praying with parents to encouraging students, and sharing my experience of laughing so hard I cried during an impromptu round…God was present through it all.

H and L (parents)- North Carolina was a very special tournament for us this year. What a blessing it was to be with all the other families and to have a chance to hear speeches from so many students. The setting in itself is a picture of God’s creation, as we enjoyed the rolling hills and the sunsets as each day closed. We especially enjoyed watching from our window as a small tribe of young students climb the hill behind the conference center to place their chosen Bible verses at the foot of the cross on the top of the hill. We are so thankful for the families we have met and the special friendships that we have developed across the generations, not only in our own region, but across the entire country! What a blessing to see God working to build relationships and develop talents for His glory!

P- (parent)- As a parent who was judging, it was fun to sit at tables with new faces, meet new people from other parts of the country! A National Open is a unique opportunity to meet and connect with a larger group of homeschoolers across the country. It’s enriching to experience being part of that larger group of people. There are many people like you, and you might meet some like-minded folks and establish new friendships.

Help your kids recognize that judging styles vary from across the country: people see and judge differently. One debate ballot said they didn’t like it when the debaters said at the beginning of a cross-ex, “I trust you’re doing well today.” The judge thought it sounded insincere, and voted off of that. There is no way to know what judges are going to think about things like this. Another judge may find it rude if you don’t ask. Be yourself and be sincere (and of course do be polite). That is all you can do. 🙂

S- (parent)- The NC Open is one of my favorite tournaments each year! This year I was reminded of the NCFCA Mission Statement of “…addressing life’s issues from a biblical worldview in a manner that glorifies God.” I was challenged to make sure I was doing that in my daily walk with Christ and actually living it out, not just asking students to do it at a tournament. Taking the focus off “my tournament” to walking it out from the lens of one focused on serving Christ caused me to be more patient, concerned more for others and way more loving! I had the true joy that only comes from Christ even during my most tired moments. It was good to go back to the mission statement and live it out.

photo credit: Julieanne Photography

Starting a New Speech… Mid Season

You went to the first tournament and got inspired watching a Duo or Open Interpretation... OR... You just aren't feeling the piece you developed over the last four months... OR... You are suddenly motivated to Persuade people... OR... You have the most epic idea!! What do you do?! Do you wait until next season when you have more time to develop a new Piece? Do you rally to create what could be the next National-level Speech? Before jumping in... Here are some things to think about...

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Students’ Perspective- NC- The Largest Qualifier

Some of may or may not have noticed… There was no blog post last week! Perhaps you were like so many Speech and Debate families and you headed to Black Mountain, NC, for one of the largest NCFCA Speech and Debate Tournaments!! Almost 400 homeschoolers/competitors gathering to tackle 11 different Speech categories and three types of Debate! Kristi and I had the pleasure of judging almost 200 students! Believe me- I wasn’t on vacation, although I had a blast! We both did! I am always so blessed with how God is working with in these students. It is amazing what IMPACT they are having!

We could write a post all about what the Lord taught US… But we thought it might be more fun to let you see what God was doing in the lives of those who were were able to attend and compete… We asked the question…

What did God teach you at NC- the largest NCFCA Qualifier of the season?

J- (student)- Humility. NC is such a big tournament and it’s humbling to see so many other talented individuals competing. It was such a refreshing and enjoyable tournament.

L- (student)- ….that even after you fall out of the competition- you can still learn! And if you don’t do as well as you had hoped, you have to go home, work hard, put in the effort, and come back stronger than ever. Working hard at something and giving it your all will have much more lasting and beneficial results, rather than getting any trophy.

G- (student)- That there’s still more to learn.
The unknown competition and different judge pool made the massive tournament even more intimidating. I didn’t recognize any of the people in my rooms, it was (for lack of a better word) scary. As everyone went through the motions, breaks were upon us sooner than later. Many people who were expected to break did… Not.
As I got more comfortable talking to outside Regions and take in account my ballots, I see that there is a whole other style of communication and we must adapt to it. I’m not saying there’s this secret code we have to learn, but that we must be willing to change our ways to properly communicate to others.
I’m still learning how reach people through my words, and NC helped me get a little closer.

J- (student)- I learned the importance of being likeable to the judge, in general (smiling, using humor in debate, for example); and remembering, from the beginning, the judge is in the room.

Z- (student)- You can achieve your goals when you set your priorities and apply yourself with hard work. After a disappointment at a Regional Qualifier,  I was feeling very upset, and not certain of what to do about it, before the NC Open. But then I remembered that the main purpose of my competing was not to win tournaments, to bring home medals, or to receive popularity because of my success, but to glorify God through my conduct towards others and in the way I compete. When I had that mindset while preparing for the North Carolina national open I found that I was able to perform better and to be more comfortable in tournament while presenting. Not only that but when I had a bad round I was able to remind myself that as long as I glorified God I had achieved my goal. By the end of the tournament I did better than I ever thought I would. I couldn’t have been happier with my personal performance and I feel like having my priorities straight and working hard during the tournament were big components to my success. And it served as a reminder to me to never give up, and to always give God the glory for my success to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat.

H- (student)- How easy it can be to get complacent in your own region and how easy it can be to begin to expect certain things that you really should never take for granted. For instance, breaking in debate or people agreeing with you on certain speech topics, or even people just enjoying your speaking style. It’s incredibly natural for those things to begin to be so normal to you that you fail to appreciate them. Being at a National Open really shook that up for me and gave me a broader perspective on NCFCA.

G- (student)- Sometimes the best thing to before a round is take some time by yourself to relax and focus. If you’re feeling nervous before a round or even the entire tournament just remember that if you focus on the competition you will usually be in a good head space to perform well. Take a few deep breathes and make the competition your priority. Also, I found one of the best ways to make yourself and the judges comfortable before any speech is to simply… Smile. show them those pearly whites. I noticed not enough students smile before they give a speech. I watched several from different categories and none of the performers utilized that time before the speech to make a connection with the judge. You’re influencing that judge from the moment you walk into that room. Give it your all, not from the start of your speech but from the moment you walk into that room.

N- (student)- …that in order to be more passionate and engaging when giving a platform speech you have to think of your speech as a conversation. Be excited about what you are talking about!

H- (student)- …learning to accept constructive criticism with thankfulness. I am learning to be kinder and striving to mentor the youngest competitors in debate rounds. I am challenging myself to be focused under pressure despite unforeseen distractions.

We are constantly in AWE of what God is doing through Speech and Debate! Love these kids! Love our God!

Thank you for judging!


This totally may seem like an obvious post. But I will still write it… If nothing else to remind my fellow judges.

1. Turn off cell phones. Check, double check.Turning it to vibrate is not good enough. Do not be that distracting person.

2. Be attentive. There is nothing more disheartening to my speech friends when adult judges look bored. Please give them the respect you would want if you were speaking to a group of people. If you can sit towards front and center, that is helpful. It’s fine to take notes, but try to keep eyes up to speaker as much as possible.

3. Check the competitor names on your ballot to make sure that you have no conflict of interest. Depending on what organization you are judging for, conflicts could include your daughter’s best friend, someone you just had over for dinner, etc. Students can give speeches out of listed order, being familiar with your list of kids will be helpful. I like to take the names of the kids and write each of their names on their individual ballot to familiarize myself with the names. This is also a good self check to see if a name I initially missed is in my room.

4. Make sure all judges are present prior to beginning the round. Typically, there are 3 judges, but some debate rounds will have fewer.

5. You may ask a Communications Staff Member or hall monitor to check with tournament staff if you have questions.

6. Use time before the round begins to read rules. Knowing what you are about to see can give you a heads up.

7. Audience members may come and go. Try not to let that be a distraction.

8. Set aside personal bias and expertise and judge based on ballot criteria.

9. Be responsive! It’s ok to laugh, smile, even enjoy yourself! However; do not interrupt or question speakers about the content of their speech at any time.

10. Please use ink pen (not pencil) to fill out your ballot evaluation and rank sections.

11. Write initial impressions & key notes on ballots after each speaker. Remember your feedback is extremely valuable! Please be sure to give your opinion, as well as what the student could do to improve.

12. Stay in room until all competitors listed on the ballot have delivered their speech. Remember students may have multiple speeches they compete in. I personally, like the extra time to fill out more of my ballot between speakers. If it seems like you are waiting too long, you could locate the Comm. Staff or hall monitor to let them know.

13. Return to the Judge’s Hospitality area immediately after the last speaker to fully complete ballot with rankings and additional comments. This will help you locate where you will be turning in your ballot! If you forget… They will find you.

14. Record YOUR ranking (1 – 8) on the tabulation sheet.  Remember- this is your opinion. If you have any penalties,  a staff member will help you..

15. Please do not confer with other judges or students about your individual rank and comments, during or after the round. Your opinion is your own. Do not convince other judges, parents, or students how you feel about one’s speech. Remember until the tournament is over, your thoughts should be kept to yourself. Students will get all the feedback at the end of the tournament.

These Speech Tournaments could not take place with place without the judges. You are much appreciated! Thank you for judging!