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.

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