I won’t try to replay everything in chronological order, or for that matter, replay literally everything. Some of it was just the normal nuttiness of tabbing. And I know you: you want the good stuff. The high points. The Great Moments in Debate History.
You want the dirt.
We tried our best to do 6 rounds of LD. Originally I posted there would be only 5 rounds, but with a bit of jiggering here and there and a bit of craziness in tab, we just might, I thought, be able to pull it off. A whole slew of rooms became available to us at 5:00 on Saturday afternoon, freed up from whatever else was happening with them that had nothing to do with the tournament. If we could start at exactly 5 and turn those ballots around like mad men and gotten the next round actually starting 1ARs at 8:00, we could do it. Keep in mind that at 10:00 the building would shut down. Security guards would literally throw people out of the place in mid-speech. On top of that, I’m not terribly fond of high school students debating past 10, if even that late, for reasons that ought to be obvious; if you do not find them obvious yourself, you may wish to question your values. Anyhow, we needed absolute precision to make this happen, but we were coming off a 2:00 round, so it should have been possible. This was, I’ll point out, even after a problematic start in the morning, which we were catching up on. We were barred from the central building until 8:00 am, and the building with the morning rounds wasn't opening until between 8:30 and 9:00. At 7:45 we were standing in the cold—me, Kaz, JV, the Gem staff—unable to do a thing but shiver. Still, with a little bit of luck and a bit of cleverness, we could still pull off that 6th round. Until a ballot went missing from round 4. What do you mean, missing, says we? We need that ballot. We were ready to serve the Gem staff up on a platter at this point. Why didn’t they collect the ballot? Well, it turns out that the ballot had been collected—by the coach of one of the teams, in the round, who pocketed it. The result was unavailable to us for about an hour, until we finally sorted out what had happened and managed to track it down. And here was the thing. Our hands were tied. It was a 3-1 round. Not only did it matter, it was unsolvable. If we double-byed it, that meant that a down-2 would be pushed up to the tougher down-1 bracket, and if they lost, they were out of the tournament. Hardly fair. If we double-forfeited it, they’d both be in the down-2 bracket, meaning that one of the teams, actually down 1, was unfairly pulling an easier draw in the down-2 bracket, which was unfair to whoever their opponent would be in that round. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. In the event, the loss of that hour killed us. We were able to retrieve a single flight of a run-off for down-2s, which in reality is about the same as a 6th round actually happening (we’ve looked at this long and hard over the years), but still, you hate to lose a whole round.
Needless to say, now was the time when bad citizenship came to the fore. One school came and demanded that we have the full 6th round we had promised. This of course was despite the fact that we had never promised 6 rounds prior to the tournament, and despite the fact that this was one of those amateur schools that was making their first foray out of their little backwater and I had bent over backwards to enable their entry in the weeks before the tournament. The coach who pocketed the ballot was guilty of being woolen-headed, but not, I’m sure, intentionally malicious. The school that got their knickers in a twist over this? Something else. Remember that school yesterday who I know I’ll bend over backwards for every time in the future because of their good debate citizenship? Well, imagine how things will work for this other school…
Then there were the coaches who couldn’t understand why we were fining them for an LD judge on Saturday because they had to pull their entered judge for the day. They called on Friday and offered a different judge to fulfill the obligation, which we explained couldn’t be done because of MJP. Well, this was the most ridiculous thing they had ever heard. Of course, I assumed that they just didn’t understand MJP (not that I hadn’t sent out my usual email), so I suggested they talk to their own students, who do pref, for an explanation. Well, they understood MJP perfectly well, hated it to its very core, blamed everything from international terrorism to the bubonic plague on it, and demanded that we not fine them because MJP is no way to run a tournament. But your own team uses MJP, says I. Yes, says they, and it’s such a terrible thing that they were able to game the system to their own advantage. So let me get this straight: your school games the system to their own advantage, but also wants to void the system when that is to their advantage? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, with me getting progressively more pissed and these people become progressively more obdurate and blaming me for being obdurate. I mean, I guess I could have written a message to everyone in the tournament that spent a lot of time working on their prefs that, oh, this school that doesn’t believe in prefs when it suits them to not do so would like you to accept a judge you haven’t preffed. Should I point out that their preffed Friday judge did not pick up his round 1 ballot and that to protect the tournament we didn’t give him one for round 2 because he had already proven untrustworthy? “He didn’t see his name on the schematic,” I was told. Oh. That explains it.
This exchange, of course, caused great amusement to the rest of the tab staff, which, since they’re all good debate citizens, are used to seeing me as relatively mellow. I was progressively less mellow as this discussion went on. All of this followed an email exchange the previous day which began with a note from this school that was unacceptably snide and led them to accusing me of sending nasty emails. I don’t know. Maybe I did. I was at dinner at 11 pm (our first opportunity to eat since 2:00) and I replied to their snide message on my iPhone saying, no, you can’t have what you want. And the bottom line was, apparently, that they were waiting for me to apologize for this whole horrible business, so they just wouldn’t leave. Okay, yeah. That’s happening. One of them, as far as I’m concerned, absolutely stepped over the border; the other was just impossible.
Did I mention that while we were running Columbia we were tabbing a three-division MHL long-distance, which I think entitles us to extra points due to the level of difficulty?
Next, “Why did we get a forfeit? We showed up for that round.” Hmmm. The judge literally called us up from the room and told us you weren’t there, and the judge heard the other flight, meaning that the judge was where he was supposed to be, and the other flight was there too, so at what point do we decide, oh, yes, you were there and the judge just didn’t notice you standing in the room, shuffling your papers? “No, we were there. We demand a bye.” Kaz was handling this one. The team was already guaranteed to break, and as she pointed out to them, this forfeit meant that they had gotten easier competition than they otherwise would have gotten throughout the entire tournament because they were in a lower bracket and they should be thankful for it. Et cetera, et cetera. I love watching Kaz ream people out. They’re trying to debate with the best; you wonder why they even bother. If I saw my name versus Kaz’s on the schematic, I’d simply walk into the round and concede. I know I’d lose anyhow; why pretend otherwise?
This next one is close to word-for-word accurate. “My judge wants a ballot.” “Good. I’ll make sure she gets one next round.” Time passes. The judge doesn’t pick up the ballot. “They”—that legendary, omnipresent, inevitably wrong they that appears at almost every tournament sooner or later—“told her the round was at 8:00, so she went out to dinner.” “But I posted the time on tabroom.com as 7:00 and it’s never changed. Why don’t you hook your judges up to tabroom so they’ll get access to all the correct information?” “Don’t you dare tell me how to run my team, you nasty man!”
Then there’s the judge who “doesn’t really understand how to judge” and makes sure that we know it when he picks up his ballot. Since this is his fourth—4, yes 4, count 'em—year judging, we are, a) well aware that he doesn’t really understand how to judge, and b) our last desperate person to push a ballot to when all else fails. This guy haunts my nightmares.
Of course, when I get to my hotel room at 1:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, it is thirty degrees and I can see my breath. Oh, great.
Did I mention that we were using the Medieval Monk 110 as the tabroom printer? It was large enough to hold two monks, who as quickly as possible wrote out every ballot by hand while praying that some day someone would invent a better printer technology.
Tabroom.com imploded on us in LD when we lost the 6th round. PF had the good grace to wait until the next day to implode, but there was no question that results were not necessarily accurate (although, of course, they were accurate in TRPC). Too bad, because I really like the automated notification system (although, obviously, that coach mentioned above won’t be using it any time soon for that team’s entries, because I, for one, will not tell them how to run their team). It’s like any other complicated system in beta, though. It needs to be beat up, a lot, because it works when everything is perfect, but bizarro things like changing the number of rounds mid-tournament is the sort of thing that is impossible to predict until you’re in the field. But stuff like that does happen. The good news is that the folks relying on notifications at this point are our best debate citizens, and they don’t get on your case when things go screwy. They’ve been there and done that.
Speaking of which, on the LD side, if you want to know how truly weird this tournament was, we had to push virtually no break round ballots. Everyone was there Sunday (without notifications) and everyone picked up right away. We’d go up to the table to check things out, and Chris, our goto Gem guy all weekend (formerly from a high school that is the paradigm of good debate citizenship) was there with maybe two ballots still left, and we could see those judges heading our way. Good work, LD judges!!!
And finally, kudos to the Gem staff as a whole, which did a fantastic job again. They turned themselves around last year, and they kept focused this year with some new folks and many returnees. It was a joy to work with them. I think that from the perspective of the assembled multitudes, attendees were pretty satisfied. Speech ran without a hitch, and aside from the lost 6th round and a slightly late start on Saturday, debate for all its issues did pretty well too.
And next up I get to run something completely different: the Newark Invitational. It’ll be like a vacation.