Thursday, April 27, 2017

In which we go all Bello Gallico

Omnia Yorkum Novum in tres partes divisa est.*

First there is the one with which I am most familiar, which we’ll call Middle York. This is the range from the top of Westchester to the bottom of Brooklyn. These are the schools I see regularly at NYCFL (excluding Brooklyn, which is in a different diocese) and at the invitationals I attend. I would call these my usual suspects. They travel a lot around the northeast, in a seething mass that includes familiar-to-me judges and contestants and coaches. And, of course, familiar to one another. They emulate a relatively national, circuity style. They know where one another’s bodies are buried.

Secondly, there is Lon Gisland. I see some of these schools at the college tournaments, and some of them at other places as well, but I always think of the Island as a forensics universe unto itself, with an active local league that obviates the need to travel far and wide. If you look at the map, you will see that LI runs almost all the way to Rhode Island, which is actually not an island and was deliberately misnamed because its founder, Roger Williams, wanted to trick people into avoiding driving on I-95. As a result of its geography, I think it’s safe to say that LI is probably another seething mass of familiarity, with a style of debate all its own that its judges and contestants and coaches are used to. If may or may not be the same as Middle York.

Finally, there is Upper York, everything above I-84 on the map, except Monticello, which might as well be in the Bronx as far as style is concerned (although they’re not attending this year). These people I hardly ever see. Occasionally an upstate school will show at a college tournament or at the odd high school tournament, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s terra incognita and here there be dragons. I don’t know if they speak English. For that matter, I don’t know if they’ve evolved vocal capabilities. (Despite having spent 5 years at school in Syracuse, by the way. No one talked back then. There was too much snow.) In any case, there is no question in my mind that their seething mass of familiarity must needs be separate from Lon Gisland and Middle York. They’re the Galapagos of the state, with their own unique evolution. Hell, for all I know, they don’t even believe in evolution, and they were created 6000 years ago and dropped directly into the Albany suburbs.

The point of all of this is to explain why I’ve separated the debate judge pools at States into three regions (although not using the regions function in tabroom). If debaters from different regions are hitting one another, it seems to me that they should have a geographically neutral adjudicator from another region entirely. When debaters from the same region are meeting, it doesn’t matter if their judge is also from that region or another one: the playing field is leveled. It’s not that I’m saying judges will be prejudiced toward their region, but especially in PF, where their experience may be limited, they might indeed be prejudiced to their region’s style. Then again, in situations where real prejudice is possible, my experience is that conflicted judges tend to bend over backwards not to be biased, and more often than not vote against the team where the perceived bias would be in their favor.

So, there won’t be any MJP, or even any strikes. All the judges are obligated for the whole tournament, vertically through all the divisions. So what I’ve done is created my own balancing act to keep things as fair as possible. It may or may not be necessary, but I don’t think anyone can fault it.

*Back in my Catholic high school, Latin was a required course. Then the church stopped using it in masses, turning instead to folk singing, which subsequently replaced Latin in the secondary school curriculum.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Over on Tournament Toolkit on Facebook, a new article about how schools rip your tournament off.

Monday, April 24, 2017

In which we count the numbers

I looked over the setup again for States over the weekend. JV will be doing the room whispering shortly—he’s the official tournament director—and there will be 89 rooms of double-flighted debate. Essentially 360 or so debaters in 6 different divisions. With paper ballots; I’ve already stuffed the printer back into my car.

This is going to be fun.

The tournament is at Hofstra, which is somewhere on Long Island. For native-born Westchester people, Long Island is akin to the Outer Hebrides. I’ve managed to find it on the map, and it doesn’t look all that complicated to get there, once I find the Throgs Neck bridge. Apparently Throggs Neck (2 gs) is named after John Throckmorton. I mean, obvious, right? George Washington called it Frogs Neck; so did I, when I was eight years old. I figure it will take about 90 minutes to get there, which means rising at the c of d on Saturday and heading out early. (Note to self: Charge phone in advance and keep that GPS at the ready.)

One thing is clear in the numbers: there are almost twice as many PFers as LDers in the six divisions overall. (And no Policy.) Therein lies the tale of the migration of events. The last time I went to States, PF didn’t even exist. Now it dominates. Which raises the question, should it? I’ve talked about the reasons for its popularity, things like low-entry bar for coaches and students, readily available parent judging, that sort of mechanical thing that, compared to LD or Policy, makes it just easier. But now that it’s the dominant debate format, one has to wonder if, on the basis of the content of the debates themselves, and the nature of the education derived from preparing for and performing in those debates, if it's better objectively than its predecessors. Better debate and better education overall, that is.

I don’t offer an opinion. But you have to wonder. I would boil it down to the inherent purposes of debate. Does PF serve those purposes better than LD or Policy? Formulate a list of those purposes, and then draw up a list of how the different events meet those purposes.

It would be an interesting exercise.


Kaz on judge adaptation

Read this: 

Judge adaptation used to be the number one on my team's top ten list for winning rounds. Nowadays, too many people think that MJP removes the need to adapt to judges. Well, if all you ever get is your 1s... I would remind people that, the better you're doing in a tournament, the less likely you are to get a 1, because the highly prefered judges go to the bubble. If you're down none or down one, you're getting what's left over. Handling different sorts of adjudicators is an ability only the best debaters really have. And more than that, I would say that the key thing in any public speaking situation is to know your audience and address them appropriately. It all starts there.


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.