Wednesday, August 31, 2016

In which we report on our website

I think I’ve finally got the website updated for the season. Things change, needless to say, and if one is hosting a website with a lot of one’s things, the website ought to change along with them.

I guess the biggest new thing is that I’m really pushing the Tournament Director’s Toolkit. As I’ve said, if I know nothing else, I know how to run tournaments. I did it on a weekly basis for years, never taking a weekend off because I was really enjoying myself. CP is probably the only person I know who is similarly up there behind the curtain (probably moreso, since a lot of it is his curtain). Sure, plenty of people attend tournaments every week, but that’s not the same thing. Planning to attend a tournament requires lining up your team and getting transportation organized and lassoing judges and maybe fundraising and so forth, which is no easy feat overall, but which is different from running said tournament. I’ve run little tournaments and big tournaments, not just tabbing them but literally as tournament director. To tell you the truth, those occasions when I’m just tabbing are like a weekend off; if something goes horribly wrong, it’s somebody else’s problem. But when you’re the director, it’s your problem. And the work often begins months before the event. And some of the simplest things can be killers in the execution. Just running a nice smooth onsite registration can be a stopper for some people. Tabroom can do so much to ameliorate the process, but either people are unaware of that, or more to the point, they just prefer to exercise what they see as control where it is unnecessary. Whichever, it can really be a nightmare or a piece of cake, depending on how you handle it. Anyhow, I certainly believe that there are best practices is running tournaments, and I’ve tried to capture them. I think there are some reasonable variations, but mostly best is a singular approach. I also believe that it is constantly changing. What’s best this year might be second best next year, so I’ll try to keep things up to date (although, honestly, I don’t know how, short of having people read this blog religiously—I’ll figure out something).

After the toolkit, I think some of my stuff might be getting a little long in the tooth, and I’ve downplayed it accordingly. I certainly wouldn’t put much stock in my thoughts on LD anymore, although there’s probably some value at the beginner level. I think what I’ve written about PF is still viable, based on what I saw down in Orlando at the NDCA finals. And of course there’s all the ancillary stuff, the fiction and audios and whatnot. The website doesn’t look terribly different—I had considered trying some new design tools but I just didn’t really have the time or the energy—and the content mostly isn’t terribly different either. But it is what it is, and at the moment, it’s up to date. I can stop thinking about it for another season.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

In which we worry about the future

Registration for Monticello’s Kaiser tournament has not exactly been gangbusters. You tell me why. I’ve gone on at length here about how people want rounds for their younger debaters, and there’s little question that the Montwegian hospitality is fine. It’s one of four invitationals spanning September and October in the region. What’s the problem?

Beats me.

When I first started out, the Kaiser had two very big divisions, one for JV and one for Varsity, for both Policy and LD. It had semis bids for LD. The joint would be jumping. There’s no question that the death of Policy in the region changed a lot of things, but the relatively direct substitution of PF, which quickly gained in popularity, made up for it. (As I’ve said often, I don’t care what kind of forensics you do; the benefits are inherent in every event, even the ones I joke about, like Dec. It takes guts for a first-year student to stand up in front of strangers and recite a speech from memory. If public speaking is a requirement for most business success—and trust me, it is—then this is what education is al about.) While there has been some fluctuation in school participation in the region, the loss of any one program has always been supplanted by the birth of some other program, aided especially by the easy coachean buy-in of PF. Policy is for professionals only; on the other hand, any decent teacher can muster up the skills to coach a PF team, at least at the starter level. So, one way or another, the numbers of debaters in the region has remained roughly the same. But a once-popular tournament, changing nothing, is now no longer popular. Same staff. Virtually the same events. Same bus ride.

Again, beats me.

Here’s what happens when a region does not support its tournaments: the tournaments go away. And they don’t reappear somewhere nearby, the same as always but wearing a different t-shirt. There are only so many schools with the coaching staff, not to mention the masochistic streak, to run a big tournament. It’s not just the work. It’s the most stressful thing a coach can do. The bigger it gets, the more you worry about, but at the earliest moments you worry that it won’t be big enough. Tournaments cost money, and most don’t make very much, if any. Dozens or hundreds of students invade your campus, and you are theoretically responsible for their well-being, not to mention supplying them with a good tournament. You need judges, food, runners, tabbers, hall monitors, major domos, coffee, rooms—you need everything that, during the normal school day, takes an entire administration, including the teaching staff. And you do it all by yourself, or with your one or two assistants, if you’re lucky enough to have any.

In other words, running a tournament is no fun, although going home when it’s over is quite satisfying. The number of people both willing to run one and capable of running one is extremely small. The number of people who want to participate at tournaments, however, seems at least constant, and with the growth of PF lately, perhaps even growing. I have no idea where they expect to go to play their game. If you go to a couple of tournaments a year, you lose to the people who go to a lot of tournaments a year. If you only have a couple of tournaments to go to, whose fault is it?

One of the many responsibilities of a coach is the need to play a role in the community beyond just getting students to become strong competitors. That, in fact, is probably the least of it. There is no LD, PF, Policy, Worlds, Dec, or pretty much any other forensic event in the Real World. There is, however, community, morality, justice, teamwork, research, friendship, and all that other stuff that is the real reason we all love debate. It is the underlying values of the activity that make it worthwhile. And those values start with the coaches. If the coaches do not support one another, what’s the point? The game will be over soon enough, and you can all spend every weekend getting on a plane to go elsewhere, because elsewhere is the only place you’ll be able to play anymore.


Monday, August 29, 2016

In which we begin to feel the lapping of the waves on our bare toes

We’re coming down the wire to the new season. The NYCFL meeting has been scheduled, as usual on the first Saturday following Labor Day. Once again I won’t be able to attend, as I’ll be tabbing Byram Hills. I will miss seeing everyone, but I won’t miss the probable discussion of the finer points of Dec and Congress, if there are in fact any finer points. I know that some people, like the Paginator, think Congress (or Legislative Debate, as some people would have it) is the cat’s pajamas, and for all I know, maybe it is, but listening to the host of Catholics argue about how it should be argued is above my pay grade. Or more to the point, you can’t pay me enough, and since no one’s paying me at all, well, I’d rather be up in Armonk shuffling Byram Hillers.

In addition to the invitational, the hills of Byram are alive with the sound of a round robin on the leading Friday. That seems to be a good idea, except insofar as it interferes with getting the invitational started (although that can be solved with a little tabbing magic, if necessary). With the Collegiate RR no longer in play, there’s a bit of a hole at the start of the year where a Rising Upperclass event used to be. As it doesn’t reach for $ircuitry, BH probably won’t ever replace the Coll RR, but for the locals, it’s close enough, especially as it leads in to the big events the next weekend. Nobody likes to go to a big tournament unprepared, mostly, although the existence of Blake running Jan-Feb in December does add some spin to the idea. You would think that people would tire of Jan-Feb long before April, when it finally plays out, especially if they’ve started it before emptying the coal out of their Christmas stockings. Apparently not. Then again, I’ve never heard anything but abject praise for the Blake tournament, so I tip my hat to them. Anyhow, I always liked the idea of a warmup tournament, or more to the point, I always believed that the first tournament on a topic was always more a learning experience than anything else. Wild stuff would fly around that would settle down by the next week. That’s one of the problems with PF. With only one month (aside from Sept-Oct) for a topic, and the need for most teams to not debate every breathing moment of their lives, topics don’t get to mature much. They start out wherever, and maybe they come around by the next week or two, but by then, people are off and running on the subsequent topic. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, especially since I think that the rapid turnover of topics is one of the things that keeps PF honest, but it does mean that you limit your opportunities to get a great number of superlative debates. By the time people figure out what’s what, they’re on to the next one. It’s the judges who suffer the most because of this, seldom getting the chance to hear really good debaters go at it in a really good way, but then again, given the nature of the PF pool, maybe they’ll never realize what they’re missing.

Meanwhile, Rather Large Bronx will start clearing the waitlists shortly. Kirby will be doing that. It’s going to be the proverbial bloodbath. Better him than me.


Friday, August 26, 2016

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

In which we consider the young 'uns

The Kaiser at Monticello opened registration today. And the question to be answered is, will the region support itself at the younger level? Looking at Bronx, for instance, we’re thinking that folks will get maybe 4 slots, 5 at most, for the debate events. If you have 4 teams, 5 at most, you’re fine. If you have more, maybe not. Plus there’s the question of if your teams really are Bronx-worthy. Some of the top debaters in the country will be there; are your teams truly up for them, or are they going to quickly sink down among the bottom-feeders? Will that be such a great experience for them? Maybe. Will they get meaningful rounds? Probably not. The misconception many students have that they are TOC-quality debaters and therefore need to participate only at TOC-qualifying events is one of the most malicious unintended consequences of the TOC in the first place. Know theyself, you schmegeggie.

The point of Academy debate, a division comprising second- and lightly seasoned third-years, is to provide those meaningful rounds. The division is meant as a place where everyone has a chance. Monti provides those chances, and lately few people have taken advantage of them. If everyone in the region, all of whom need those chances, were to sign up, the joint would be jumpin’. I hope that’s how it turns out.

Byram Hills (which is still open, by the way, if you haven’t registered yet, you tattie howker) is a similar event. Their numbers are far from overwhelming, but at least they’re reasonable. Still, they should be more. It was originally conceived as a prep for JV and Varsity (they have V divisions) at Yale, among other things, although if you ask me, all tournaments ought to exist for themselves. That is, tournaments ought to exist to provide what a region needs, and the region ought to respond accordingly. I’ve written about this at length in the toolkit. Give the people what they want, and need.

So here we are. Two tournaments that ought to be extremely beneficial for the region. It’s up to the region to make that happen. All the tournaments can do, when you think about it, is provide the opportunity. It’s up to everyone else to grab that opportunity.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

In which we provide a little inventory

Just for the hell of it, a little inventory of things in my office at the DJ.

A small Pieter  Bruegel the Elder poster of ice skaters. A print of the Sistine Chapel. An Alice in Wonderland poster (presently on the page with Alice and the Queen of Hearts playing croquet). A Monet print of poppies on the hill outside Giverny. (I’ve seen those poppies for real.) Postcards of The Treachery of Images (i.e., "Ceci n’est pas une pipe"), Cezanne (3D), Burchfield (circular), Hiroshige (matted), another Cezanne (a backlit woman that taught me everything there is to know about photography lighting). Pictures of Cinderella’s castle at night at WDW, George Burns and Gracie Allen, the canals in Venice. Another calendar, of Kaz’s photos (presently on a London page). A printed fastpass for Soarin’ in Epcot, numerous pins of Star Wars characters in Vinylmation, Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts pins, numerous pins with dates of WDW visits, a handful of Cheshire cat pins plus a magnet of Tenniel’s C cat in the tree. Another magnet celebrating the 1939 World’s Fair. A UK Student Center coaster. Columbia, Bump, NYCFL and Bartleby the Scrivener mugs. A Bump trophy. Plaques from a couple of places who thought I was the coach of the year or the like. (I have more of these at home. Get old or look like you're going to retire, and they rain down on you.) Two photos of Hen Hud teams from different heydays. 3 Star Wars Pez dispensers. A Jedi Academy lanyard. A George Washington shaped Avon perfume bottle (with the perfume still in it). A deck of skyscraper playing cards. A small tin of emergency underpants (a gift, not something I always keep around just in case). A plate decorated with Disney attraction poster images. An American flag. The usual assortment of family photos. An Elvis Presley fly swatter. A talking Gollum mini-fig. And a few et cetera and et alii.

This list is not complete, and deliberately excludes anything work-related. It is not an all-inclusive representation of my brain, but it is certainly a walking tour of part of it.

Just imagine the stuff at my office in the chez, where I don’t have to keep all the DJ items.