I have proposed this to the NYSDCA and gotten a good response, and we plan to try to inaugurate the idea at Byram Hills in January. Slightly edited, here is my original memo:
We need a division of debate that recognizes that while every student can benefit from forensics, not every student wishes to make it their life’s work. Additionally, we need to provide a better link from beginner to varsity, regardless of a student’s commitment to the activity. And finally, we need to insure that all our regional tournaments provide the community with appropriate levels of competition and engagement, so that our rich competitive calendar continues to thrive.
I offer the solution tentatively titled Academy Debate.
Academy Debate is, primarily, a level of competition that can be applied to any division of policy, LD or PF. Academy Debate is primarily intended for sophomores and juniors, and is open to anyone except seniors and students past their third year of debate (i.e., juniors who debated in middle school now in their fourth year would not be eligible to participate at the Academy Debate level).
Additionally, Academy Debate can be judged by seniors in their fourth year of debate. In fact, seniors in their fourth year are urged to judge, and will be considered not only judges but instructors, especially at tournaments that embrace the full Academy Debate designation.
We have a number of students at the senior level who have a lot to give to the community beyond their ability to adjudicate rounds less expensively than college students (although one reason for creating the Academy level is to remove the need to hire judges for local tournaments). This proposal intends to use those other skills of our upperclassmen. The idea is that if a tournament wishes to adopt an Academy Debate structure, the regional community will work with the tournament to develop a program beyond the rounds that will be interwoven into the tournament. Beyond-the-Rounds activities will include lectures and brainstorms on new resolutions, demo rounds by TOC-level seniors with commentary, stop rounds (coaches judging a round can break in at any time with advice and questions), background lectures by coaches and student instructors (e.g., a unit on sovereignty or due process or whatever). The hope is to slot maybe two or three of these special events into a tournament, during down time and even in lieu of a round.
Our belief is that this will invigorate tournaments that do not have TOC bids by making them appealing to younger students, who can come and actually learn something, and to older students, who can come and, quite frankly, show off their skills.
Any tournaments in the region could find material that would be of great interest in the Academy Debate model, depending on the time of year. There are always new resolutions to explore and new techniques to learn. For instance, look at January in the northeast. On Martin Luther King weekend we have Big Lex, a triple-threat TOC-level tournament with heavy competition in each division. Additionally, for most LDers this is the first TOC-level shot at the Jan-Feb resolution that will also be the TOC resolution and, probably, the NYSDCA resolution. In our present system:
• Seniors and TOC hopefuls are working hard on their cases, and have little interest in “prepping for Lex” at a tournament with competition not at their own level.
• Younger students are preparing to have their heads handed to them at Lexington, starting for some what might be the inglorious end of their careers because they are not interested in continuing with high stakes TOC level competition.
• Nobody knows what other schools are going to be running, and everybody finds out during the competition. And if you happen to be running something totally illogical that sounded really good back home, well, it’s too late now.
These apply fairly equally across the divisions, but of course with different ramifications. January in PF, for instance, is rich with competitive opportunities, but again, is it best to dive into a TOC bid tournament with a new case filled with untested ideas?
Well, what if there were an Academy Debate tournament the week before Big Lex?
• Seniors who are working hard on their cases would not have to present a finished case, but as judges they could hear what other folks are running andmaybe get some ideas therefrom.
• Seniors who have been working hard will get a chance to lecture and brainstorm their ideas
• A coach or two might do a half hour unit on background for both the PF and LD divisions
• A “lab” might do a training session on CX for all divisions
You get the picture. To pull this off requires commitment from everyone. There is a fear that some tournaments, primarily those without TOC bids, are not getting the attendance they deserve. (The likelihood that any new tournament will somehow work its way up to attaining bids is, honestly, about nil, given the politics of TOC.) At the same time, there is a big issue that we want younger students to remain in the activity if at all possible without becoming dispirited. Additionally, the removal of the need to provide hired judges seriously reduces the cost of debate in the region. And for large programs, there becomes a logical way to split the squad between events.
And that, in a rather large nutshell, is Academy Debate.