I have been to eventful tournaments in the past. None of them have ever come close to this one. There were earthquakes and lightnin’, hurricanes ablowin’. We wondered if maybe there was a full moon on the rise; when I drove home last night and saw that big yellow ball hanging low to the west, I gave credence to this particular analysis. Or Creedence, if you prefer the bad moon to the full one.
First of all, in the run up to the tournament, it was one thing after the other. I think one thing is true of most college tournaments: they attract a lot of amateurs. Schools that don’t get around much pick one university a year to descend upon, and for one reason or another make a bit of a mess of it. With the Gem, the first issue was that the tournament opened as waitlist only, primarily because of the annual room issue. Having worked with the team a number of years now, I sympathize with them. As far as I can tell, it is a battle royal to secure every single space, and rugs are pulled out regularly right up to the last minute. It’s as if the administration actively tries to make things difficult. Which is strange, because most universities use events like this as recruiting agents. Big university or small college, having a whole bunch of pretty smart high school students descend on you is an opportunity either to hawk your wares or sort through the candidates. The Powers That Gem feel otherwise.
Anyhow, we made it pretty clear that waitlist is defined as “we’ll let you know,” but pretty much everyone from far and wide made precipitate travel arrangements despite the lack of guarantee of entry. That necessitated a lot of back and forth, on top of which some of the local schools, who every year get virtually all their entries in at the last minute because, of course, they can handle the lack of a need for travel arrangements, all acted as if they had just emerged from the cabbage patch and were harassing me pretty early on for not only not immediately giving them all their entries, but also not accepting the vast detritus of extra entries above the divisions’ school limits. Last year we had a rogue school from one state far away that used the Gem as an excuse to finally get to Broadway to see “Abie’s Irish Rose” rather than to attend their rounds or judge them, and there was a lot of lingering hoo-ha over that, so it turns out that this year the rogue school decided to come from another state altogether. I can’t keep up. Is there some sort of Evil Alliance of Rogue Forensics Teams that organizes every year to decided which one gets to use the Gem as a vacation and which ones have to actually suffer through a speech and debate tournament? Then of course there’s the Usual Suspects who do not believe they need to cover an entire tournament with judges, especially the last day when it’s only break rounds, even if they’re still in it, because they have other commitments. Other commitments? During debate season, with an active team? That’s another sort of amateur, the coach that does it regularly and just doesn’t get it.
There are many good debate citizens out there, more than there are bad citizens by far. There are teams that it is a joy to deal with up and down the line, from the coach to the newest novice. The good debate citizen teams all probably think I’m a pretty decent kind of guy myself, and I’m always happy to accommodate their needs and concerns because they are always happy to pick up a pushed ballot—good debate citizens hover near the ballot table before every round; bad debate citizens occasionally to regularly don’t pick up their own ballots, much less other folks’—and keep you informed of any changes before it becomes an issue and they are easy to find when you need them and they don’t blame you for things that are beyond your control or, worse, for something you didn’t do. They are often teams that host tournaments themselves. They understand the game, and how to play on both sides of it.
Here’s one example. A team from faraway (not part of the Evil Alliance of Rogue Forensics Team) had some difficulties with their entry that I could not do anything about. They were in a parlous position of perhaps losing travel fees as a result. In conversation with the coach of this team, it came up that I was having issues finding someone to run congress. She put her own issues aside, rolled up her sleeves and helped me solve that problem. So is there any chance that, in any universe, I won’t try to give this team everything I can every time in the future whenever I can? Good debate citizenship (or speech citizenship, if you will): It’s what makes tournaments happen. It’s people doing their best to solve problems, help each other out, all that really good stuff. If you’re not one of those people, if you find yourself writing a lot of complaining emails, if you’re not pitching in when you can and accepting what you have to accept, please, go to another tournament.
This, as I said, was all just the run-up to the tournament. Realistically speaking, none of this was terribly out of the ordinary, although there were hints of extraordinary events to come. If I had been a better reader of the tea leaves, I mighta stood in bed. In fact, I probably shoulda. I could have gone to the movies this weekend. Maybe done some useful chores around the house. Maybe read a good book. But then again, by not choosing to do what it is I do, I would have missed it all. Thanks to debate, in the words of Stephen Sondheim, “I'll not have been dead when I die.”
Tomorrow, we get into some details.