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…

Dress code – Your son needs a suit, tie, dress shirt and shoes and should be dressed like a lawyer. We only had one suit, but brought several shirts/ties. If there were opportunity or need to launder the suit, I brought along a home dry-cleaning kit to use at night. Your daughter also needs several modest and professional outfits. Skirts need to be below the knee or they may not be allowed to compete. Exact regulations are on the website.

Heather says: During my sons “growing years” we were fortunate enough to find suits at consignment stores. Once they were older I did get them “store bought suits”. Kohls and JC Penny could usually get them fitted for around $100. Watch for sales! I have also known many people to cut costs for young men by wearing suit separates. And I have known multiple guys to wear the same suit for the whole tournament. Ties can add up, especially if you buy them at a department store. This may be the only personal flair your son will be able to have to express themselves (although I have been seeing some awesome socks), I suggest also checking out thrift shops- we have gotten some great ties for only $2.

Young ladies have a little easier time, as far as economical clothing. Finding “tournament attire” at thrift/second hand stores, consignment stores, as well as on sale racks is a little easier.

I also know several club that do a “Tournament Attire Clothing Exchange”. Perhaps, you want to start one for your club.

Registration fees – You will need to pay for each event your student competes in – usually between $10 – $35 for each event. Sometimes more for national events.

Heather says: Unfortunately, tournaments cost money. Facilities sometimes cost almost $5000 for a three day tournament. There are paper costs for supplies, as well as ballots, certificates, flow sheets, etc. Having light snacks or food for judges is an expense. NCFCA has set fees for their tournaments. Stoa has more flexibility with their registration fees, depending on their expenses.

Photocopies – For platform and interpretation speeches, your student needs a copy typed up complete with bibliography, etc. For debate students, your student needs to make hundreds of printouts of evidence briefs. Most debate students have a wheeled box or crate in which to carry their paperwork. We used our OfficeDepot printing discount so much that the store clerks knew us by name. One tip on printing – put all the files you want to print into one folder on a flash drive. Make sure that they are all .pdf files or you may incur extra charges for the clerk to convert them.

Heather says: As a speech parent/coach I tell my students to keep their speeches on a Google Doc. so they can access them anywhere. Their “master copy” of their copied off interp piece goes into a folder, and will also travel to every tournament.

Transportation – You are responsible for your own travel expenses to/from tournaments.

Heather says: Depending on the size of your family and where you are going this can be quite an expense.  I know people who pack all their food, not to be tempted by convenience store snacks or the drive thru. When possible try to carpool and share the costs of gas. The biggest downfall of this is you need to be staying at the same place, as well as sharing the responsibility of driving to and from the tournament. If your students aren’t in the same events, you could be waiting around while you could be getting precious sleep.

Don’t forget to look up of adding the cost of AAA. Most moms are traveling with their children alone. AAA can come in handy in case of emergency, as well as for hotel discounts (sometimes my AAA discount has been cheaper than the group rate offered at hotels- it doesn’t hurt to ask!).

Lodging – You are responsible for your lodging expenses. Our club has always had a great mom who would head up the hotel research and negotiate group rates.

Heather says: Depending on where the tournament is located, this could be another big expense. Back when we started, there used to be a link for host housing. You don’t see that much anymore. However, sometimes host housing is available, you just need  to know who to ask. The Tournament Coordinator may be a starting point, or if you know someone local- even better. Splitting hotel costs can save you money. You can sometimes find suites to get more than two families in one room. I know some people have had success cutting costs through AirBB and Vacation by Owner. Spending the time on your research of housing could prove to be extremely valuable.

On a side note, I am almost always willing to spend a little more more for convenience. In the dead of winter, I may choose a close hotel over a 40 minute commute. Weather in the north can be unpredictable. Staying five miles from the tournament means less hazard travel, and not to mention much needed sleep.

Meals – You are responsible for your own meals. There is no time to run out to McDonald’s to get a meal. Nor are you supposed to leave the campus. You can purchase the meals that they will cater in advance (usually averaging $7 per meal per person), or plan on bringing your own meals. Since most parents will be busy volunteering in some capacity the whole day/night, you will rarely see your children. It’s best to prepare everything ‘box lunch’ style to make it easier. Microwaves may or may not be available either, so don’t count on it. Some friends have it down to a finely tuned process bringing in two medium Rubbermaid tubs with all their food supplies (don’t forget utensils and napkins) and a thermal pot which keeps food hot for 6 hours. Most of the time, my son was too nervous to eat much and spent much of his free time talking to his friends and listening to speeches.

Heather says: Food is an expense, but sometimes I have to remind myself, that I would have needed to feed my family whether I was at a tournament or at home. Sometimes just making sure we eat at a tournament can be a challenge. I am sure I could have a whole article, document, or even a “tournament cookbook” on how to eat and save costs at a tournament. The fact of the matter is- you have to eat, so what is the best, most convenient, and economical way to go about doing it. I, personally do a combination of bringing food (because there is never enough in the prepared meals) and purchasing the meals available on site.

Unfortunately, speech and debate does come at a cost. But through the years, I have met and spoken with hundreds of people like myself that all think it is worth it. Relationships are made, skills are learned, ultimately the value your students will get out speech and debate are truly priceless.

This article is part of a series of articles concerning tournaments. The articles will be in the Lasting Impact! Library (as a PDF) COMING SOON!