Thursday, April 20, 2017

In which we tell a little States history

The NYSFL State Championship Tournament, or States as we always refer to it, is next weekend. I’ll be working with JV on the debate activities.

Longtime members of the VCA might be able to recall my own history with States. In my earliest days, striving for and attending States was an expected part of the operation. There was (and for some schools, still is) a whole song and dance about qualifying at your level as early as possible during the season, then moving up to the next level after you achieved your two quals, both to up your personal game and to make room for someone else still battling to qualify at that lower level.

There was never a lot of harmony on the debate side of the tournament. It seemed like an easy expectation for the Speecho-Americans, where it was the culminating state event following a lot of similar local events. But for the debaters, it was an event unlike all the events they had participated in and, therefore, at which they had achieved their qualifications. There were no hired judges and no upperclass judges. The qualification process included inapt designations based on speech results. There was a complete disconnect with rigid quals on the one hand and mercy quals at virtually gimme regional tournaments at the end of the year. For all practical purposes, in other words, it was a speech event marginally adapted for debate, a round hole into which the square peg of debate simply couldn’t fit.

Over the years, this had led to friction. Policy disappeared after some serious personnel conflicts, for one thing. Uncomfortably, this disappearance was coincidental with the rise of the NY UDL. Policy didn’t go extinct, it just didn’t bother to go to States anymore. It was almost impossible to get more than a few schools to attend in VLD, because the VLDers were so used to a different universe of invitationals. Even if they weren’t TOC-worthy, debaters didn’t want to take their skills and regroove them for a judging pool almost entirely comprising marginally experienced parents. (PF hadn't been invented yet.)

We tried to change the NYSFL, but that proved difficult to impossible, seeing how entrenched it was in what it was already doing. That was the point where we created the NYDCA, the New York Debate Coaches Association. Essentially we put together an operation that would hold a culminating event congruent with the qualifying events. We held it in locations where City schools could easily send their policy teams. We also did things like coach recognition and free workshops (with the MHL, being that it was mostly the same organizers). My feeling was that we would ultimately gain enough traction to merge in with the NYSFL, and most of us expressed openly this as a goal. If we couldn’t change them from within, we’d change them from without.

Jon Cruz was the active leader of the NYDCA, and his problems pretty much took the winds out of the sails of that group. The only other logical person was me, and I was already eyeing my move out of the organizational side of things, plus the MHL had already proven to be on its last legs for reasons having nothing to do with Cruz or what ailed the NYDCA vs NYSFL. So the NYDCA simply went away, leaving the NYSFL, and States, as the standing survivor, plus the totally separate City operation that is very active through the year. (We invite them to our December CFL when we have room for policy teams. They should ultimately be reintegrated into the NYSFL, but that is someone else’s job at this point.)

And now, after all that, I’m working States. Simply put, it’s got 6 debate divisions, and right there you need more than one pair of hands, no less so because the numbers are pretty impressive. It will be my last tournament of the year, and I’m looking forward to it. We’ll talk about the details next time.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

In which we tell tales of the Emerald Island

I spent a couple of weeks in Ireland, which is why I haven’t been blogging. I turned off just about all my connections to the outside world, with a couple of exceptions. I did post some pix of the trip on Facebook, for one thing. I haven’t done this in the past out of a fear that stalkers will immediately go to my house and break in and steal the family jewels. This ignores the fact that our Siamese cat is vicious enough to scare away even the most committed ailurophile. It also ignores the fact that, as far as I know, I haven’t befriended that many house burglars on Fb, at least not knowlingly. And the random ones who might come upon me by chance probably have bigger fish to fry.

I also allowed myself to read the Times every day, although, due to timing, one day late. So I got to follow the news enough to know what was going on, but not at the level that keeps my blood pressure above the boiling point, as compared to Twitter, where I can do things like read the tweets of our exec and his veep and cringe at having to tell people that I’m an American. Not that the issue came up, though. The tour guide on the group we travelled with, Americans all except for him, made us promise never to discuss politics. Apparently he’s been on this trip before.

The first week of our visit was on a small van, a 14-seater with AWD that could boldly go where no normal tour bus could even imagine. The tour was promoted as being fairly physical, with lots of hiking and available extras like horseback riding and biking and kayaking and visits to a distillery. We marched all over creation, in forests and on bleak hills and through sheep farms and along cliffs and into peat bogs and out onto islands. We performed a successful pagan ritual to stop the rain (of which we had remarkably little, given the nature of the island). I banged my head a couple of times on my way through Blarney Castle where I, no surprise to the VCA, had no intention of kissing that stone nor any other. I’m not a stone kisser. After a week, we had really been around, seen a lot, and enjoyed every bit of it.

After that, it was Dublin. Nice city, and we kept busy, seeing this and that, including a train ride to the south, traveling along the shore. We always like cities, and most of our vacations prioritize that sort of thing, so we’ve gotten pretty good at waking up whenever, finding a light breakfast (last hot cross buns of the season), hitting something cultural, walking through gardens, dinner, and occasionally hitting a play or concert. You can do all that in Dublin, although not as well as, say, London or New York, but then again, London and New York are London and New York.

Anyhow, now it’s over, and we’re back. And coming up is the New York State Finals, which looks to be quite the prospect, now that registration has closed. We’ll get to that next time.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

In which we point elsewhere again

Over to the Tournament Toolkit on Facebook, and some thoughts on registration opening dates.

I'm still recovering from jet lag and Guiness pints. I'll get all the burners running in a day or two.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

In which we philosophize about numbers

The bigger a field is, the easier it is to tab, provided you’ve got enough judges. It’s the little ones that are the hardest, especially when there’s an imbalance, that is, a lot of teams from one or two schools.

The big tournaments tab themselves. What you have to look for is that all the judges are being used correctly, that the byes are going to the people who deserve them (something tabroom has yet to do satisfactorily), and that people show up and end up within a reasonable amount of time. It probably takes about an hour to tab a big round: fifteen or twenty minutes to make sure it’s okay and the assignments are right, a half hour lead-up time, then fifteen minutes of getting each round started. Usually we’re tabbing multiple events on a staggered schedule, and as soon as one division is set, the next one pops up. (I’m not counting time for entering results because there’s less of that every year, thank God.)

In other words, the computer does all the work, and mostly does it right. It can’t do things like prefer 2-3 prefs over 1-2s, but that’s easy enough to fix. There may be little things that remain problematic, but the big work is done in the processor.

Little fields are harder. The computer might be perfectly happy with double-pull-ups, or assignment of the bye will be ceded to side constraints, or not, or any number of things like that. Clever manipulation of judges, e.g., moving a varsity LD judge into a JV PF round, no way. Good judges on the bubbles, maybe. All the teams from X HS undefeated, hitting pullups? That may be unsolvable. Simply not pairing the round? It does happen. I print up cards, in that case. Kaz uses the manual matcher. Whatever.

Looking ahead to the NY States tournament, it appears that the younger the students, the more of them there are. Only 19 people are qualified to debate LD at the varsity level across the entire state? No. But only 19 people want to. Whatever. I’m not an interested party anymore, so it is what it is. 27 in JV. 37 in Novice. The point is, the divisions will be progressively easier to tab as the students become younger, because there’s progressively more of them. But none of them are gangbuster big. This is going to be an interesting tournament to run because we will, in fact, have to run it. There is a belief that will put tab rooms out of business. Not yet. 

Each tournament has its own ethos, its own problems, its own fun and games. Each, in other words, is unhappy in its own way.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

In which we take on regions

Not here. Facebook. Sorry to make you click multiple times, but it may be the only exercise you're getting today, and I'm trying to keep you healthy.

Monday, March 27, 2017

In which we note a couple of quick items

I’m going on hiatus in a couple of days, resurrecting after Easter. Meanwhile, for those who are keeping score, on Facebook @TournamentToolkit I recently talked about online onsite registration, which I’m most agin’, the ins and outs of publishing the names of your teams and judges, and tracking down bogus entries. If you do go there, please like and follow. That will make sure the posts get into your feed. Unless you hate them with a feverish passion you were unaware was buried in your otherwise calm and sober personage, in which case keep it to yourself. 

That is all.