Speech and Debate Tournament Series- Mapping the Tourney (part 3)

You are new to the tournament world. Not quite sure what to expect. Nancy Chu (along with Heather) paints a picture of what to expect to see, as well as the vocabulary and terminology, at a typical homeschool Speech and Debate Tournament…

There are many speech and debate leagues across the United States. What a blessing of opportunity for our students to be able to participate in such a fruitful and productive activity! Depending on what speech and debate league you are part of there can be some variation or discrepancy on how a tournament is run. In order to keep this article under 2000 words, we will focus on the two largest homeschool leagues- NCFCA and Stoa.

NCFCA has streamlined their tournaments- they look extremely similar across the country. They have a paid position for the Tournament Director, overseeing every tournament to keep the process efficient and consistent. Stoa’s organization allows for more flexibility and variance within their local chapters- club leaders and parents can host a tournament under the general guidance of the Stoa leadership. We will try to paint a picture for new families invested in speech and debate, but as always, there could be some discrepancies.

Check In – NCFCA Tournaments typically begin the afternoon/evening prior to the first day of competition, although sometimes it can be held the morning of. Registration for larger tournaments will be in a large crowded room, gym, or space with long tables on opposite sides of the room.  The tables are labeled for platforms, interns, and debate and competitors need to wait in each line that pertains to their events.

Parents or Chaperones must be present with your students at “Check In”. In NCFCA, there can a long wait depending on the size of the tournament, so allow time. (It is worth noting that the students tend to love this time to catch up with friends from other states.) I haven’t yet figured out if you should be the first to check-in or the last. NCFCA has a strict chaperone policy that is clearly defined in their affiliate handbook, so be sure you know it before you pack up, and arrive at the tournament.

Stoa has an online script submission system, so you won’t see the long lines.

Once your family is checked in, here is some terminology to help you get the lay of the land, the places you’ll go, and the people you will meet…

Student Hangout Room – Students typically have their own hangout room. They are only allowed to be in the main announcement room, a competition room, or the hangout room (usually a fellowship hall or cafeteria) during a tournament. This fellowship area can be loud. This is also where students usually get their food/meals. This place can get messy! Make sure your students do their part to keep it tidy. People sometime dump all their bags and coats here.  Be sure to label your stuff. There have even been rousing card games and sing-alongs in this fellowship area. If you have young siblings, and if they aren’t with you, this is where they will be. Some parents rotate watching the littles, some older kids watch their siblings, regardless be sure they are being supervised. Keep in mind that some larger tournaments have more than one building to navigate.

Timer Table – The timer table is usually located somewhere near the student hang out room. This is where students (and parents) can volunteer to time debate and limited prep speech rounds.

Because Stoa has gone to a self timing system, they do have a timer table for questions, but it is not always manned.

Announcements/Devotions – In NCFCA, there are morning announcements and devotions every day. Students (and parents) are expected to be there for them.

Competition Rooms – This is where the students compete, usually a classroom, dorm room, or office, but sometimes it can be much larger, such as a theater hall or music room.  When we first went to our first tournament, I was surprised how small the rooms could be, as well as how many spectators there were. In the preliminary rounds, sometimes it is just the judge/s and the competitor/s. This can make it less intimidating for the competitors to make them aware beforehand. Usually further on in the competition more people will watch.

Judge Greeter – It’s always nice to be greeted! The Judge Greeter is usually located in the main entrance of the building.  Sometimes parents and students enter in a different entrance, closer to the Hangout Room or Announcements. Sometimes the administration part of the tournament is off limits to the students. It will be marked with signs “no competitors beyond this point.”

Ballot Distribution – The ballot distribution will be an area with one long table set up, attended by ladies behind the table with stacks of papers and pens, and signs posted with the upcoming competition events. You will wait until the community judges and alumni select their venues, then the venues are opened to parent judges. You will be asked to scan the list of competitors to see if you know them well. If not, you will be allowed to judge that event. After you judge your event, you will return to Judge Hospitality to fill out your ballots.

Hospitality – In Judge Hospitality, you will complete your ballot as thoroughly and thoughtfully as possible. You will be welcome to enjoy light refreshments in the Judge Hospitality room. After your paperwork is complete, you turn it into Ballot Return.

Judge Orientation – aka- “JO”. The judge orientation staff fields questions from judges, parents, and competitors making sure the rules of the tournament are being followed and enforced. They are usually stationed in Judge Hospitality. Last year, NCFCA, introduced a new name for JO- it’s now called Compliance, but most people still call it JO.

Judge Liaison – In 2017, NCFCA created a new team geared to helping the community judge get orientated, understand the lay of the land, what to expect, etc.

Ballot Return – The ballot return area will be located in/near hospitality and have several ladies behind some tables, ready to check and accept your paperwork. After your paperwork is accepted, you are welcome to prepare to judge another event.

Postings – These are various heavily populated locations throughout the building which have the names and rooms of the upcoming competitors. For example, if it is a speech round, colorful pieces of paper will be taped to a wall in the cafeteria or by an elevator which have the events, room numbers and competitor’s names. If it is a debate round, colorful pieces of paper will contain the debate team match-ups and the rooms where they will be debating.

Communication Stations – Depending on how large the tournament is, there can be Communication Stations with a member of the Communication Staff ready to help you. They will be who you will contact if you need a competitor for a room, have any disturbances, or encounter an emergency.

Tabulation Room – This is a room, that you might not see, but you know it exists. In there is where postings and ballots are created and tabulations are done.

Announcements/Breaks – Depending on your tournament, everyone gathers in the announcement room to hear who “breaks” or “advances” to the next round. They utilize “forensic claps” – meaning one clap in unison. They will say a name (*one forensic clap*) and then go on to the next name in quick succession. The size of the tournament will determine when “breaks” will happen. Likely times will be Debate Octa-finals or Quarterfinals, Speech Semifinals, Debate and Speech Finals, until the tournament is over.

So what if your student doesn’t “break” (or advance into the elimination rounds)? Well, theoretically you should encourage everyone to listen to the more advanced debaters/speeches and learn from them, and support those from your club that did break. The next best thing after giving speeches and doing debates is to learn from someone more advanced.

Award ceremony – At the very end of the tournament there will be an award ceremony celebrating all the achievements of the tournament. Certificates and medals/trophies are awarded, and at the end everyone can pick up their “ballots”.

Does it sound overwhelming? Knowing what to expect, can help! Typically the tournaments are run by teams of moms and dads, each playing a role to help successfully run and coordinate a tournament. A lot of times first time parents will help judge, however if you want to volunteer to help- there is always a role to fill!

This article will be made into a PDF and available in the Lasting Impact! Library.