We’re back!

…back from a grueling, exhilarating, five-day adventure also known as a Speech and Debate Tournament.

It is the best of days, it is the worst of days. (Wait, did someone already say that?)

A load of laundry is started, breakfast is on the stove, with the makings of more good food in the works. The Giant Schnoz, fully convinced that No One Else Will Do when it comes to taking her outside, feeding her, etc., is growling-and-wagging hopefully at my elbow. (Growling-and-wagging is a time-tested Giant Schnauzer technique. The growling is meant to show seriousness, with wagging thrown in to show it’s not that kind of seriousness, but a more cheerful — though urgent — kind.)

(Pause to feed aforementioned dog)

And now, fed, she has taken the top off the treat jar, and so it must be time to give her the daily pill that resides in a bottle in the treat container. She likes her pills. She really does. That’s why they’re usually sealed up tight with the rest of the treats. Someone left the lid loose, and so I must go and see to the administration of the pill, and then make sure the treats are sealed in a manner that is safe from opportunistic Schnauzers. Be back in a minute.

(Pause to dose dog and secure future doses, along with various and sundry dog treats.)

Um. Where was I?

Speech and debate note: “Um” is a filler word, a distraction, undesirable in the extreme, along with “ah” and the misuse of “like” and oft-repeated phrases which become distractions when they dominate a speech, such as “Now…” and “Moving on” or “Moving along to my next point” or “All in all,” or even “extremely” or “very.”

 We drove nearly four hours to get there, which makes a three-day event into a four-day (and if you’re sane and drive back the day after the tournament ends, a five-day) event. The trip was well worth it.

 Imagine a venue packed with suited students, trailing file boxes on wheels, filling the place with energy and excitement.

Speech and debate note: Debaters, as a rule, wear suits, looking like young professionals — a convention of teen lawyers, perhaps, or youthful business people at a high powered conference. Speech participants who are not debaters, while not wearing suits, are conservatively dressed. They look good. They look sharp. Partners often wear matching outfits that complement each other — shirts of the same hue, for example, or identical ties, or even more creative combinations like the young man whose tie matched his partner’s shirt, while his partner’s tie matched his shirt. Subtle, but not without impact.

 The gym is the student lounge, in a manner of speaking, a staging area where competitions are announced and posted, where meals are served, a place to hang out in between events, to talk, laugh, practice, even engage in goofiness. (I heard about, but did not see, a mock debate that was described to me as the epitome of silliness.)

Another largish room is devoted to the judges and staff lounge, set up with tables and chairs and a steadily stocked refreshment table. This is where judges can work on their ballots, before (filling in competitors’ names, reading over the rules for the event) and after an event.

Speech and debate note: There are two kinds of judges in an NCFCA tournament: Parent judges and community judges. Parent judges are just what they sound like, parents of competitors who fill in where needed — because an awful lot of judges are needed. Dozens. Hundreds? I wouldn’t be surprised. Community judges are recruited from the surrounding area and are essential to the tournament. The whole point is communication. The students have been working for months to polish their skills, and if they can get their point across to a community judge, essentially someone who comes in off the street (though there may be Toastmasters in the mix, as well as lawyers, pastors,  salespeople, and others who speak for a living, there are also mechanics, and waitresses, and dental assistants, and cashiers, and stay-at-home moms, and people from all walks of life), then they have succeeded. So next time someone whose kid is in a speech and/or debate club asks you to be a judge at an event, please do!

 The remainder of rooms are smaller, from classrooms down to offices, even closets, anywhere you can squeeze a judge, a timer, and one or two speakers at a time. Ideally, you’ll have a table for the judge and timer, and if it’s a debate round, two tables, chairs and a lectern at the front of the room, plus a few chairs for spectators. In one of our daughter’s debates, everyone (four debaters, a judge, a timer, and a watching parent) sat around one table. Not ideal, but they made it work).

Speech and debate note: There are two types of debate in the NCFCA. One is called Lincoln-Douglas Debate and involves one-on-one debate, two students debating a moral issue that changes each year (This year, the resolution is that a government has a moral obligation to assist other nations in need). The other is called Team Policy Debate where two teams of two partners each debate a policy issue. (This year, the resolution is that the United Nations should be significantly reformed or abolished.)

 Speeches include a variety of events, taken from literature or written by the students, dramatic or humorous, informative and/or entertaining, prepared and memorized ahead of time, or made up on the spur of the moment, depending on the requirements of the particular event.

 Over the three days, students perform their speeches or debate their resolutions, judges watch and fill out ballots, ranking the competitors. Some competitors are eliminated, some move on, through semi-final and final rounds, culminating in the final event, the awards ceremony where the winners in each category are announced.

Speech and debate note: …well, not quite the final event. After the awards ceremony came the “ballot party” where many of the competitors went to a nearby Dairy Queen to read the judges’ feedback, compare notes, celebrate or commiserate, exchange autographs, eat and talk and generally have a good time to cap off the tournament. It’s a way of prolonging the time with friends old and new, a little longer, before everyone gets in their cars and scatters to the far corners of three states.

(See the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association website for more information about the organization behind the tournament.)

This tournament was a lot like others we’ve attended, popping with energy, inspiring and exhausting. An added complication was the stomach bug that started going around on the second day, and caused some competitors to miss the last day (or even interrupted events, in two cases I heard about). Quick action on the part of the organizers probably kept the bug from derailing the tournament. Competitors were urged to wash their hands frequently, and the usual competitor-judge handshakes were suspended.

What was amazing to me was that this tournament was sponsored by a club that was just formed a few months ago. It was beautifully organized, well run, and I can’t say enough about the sponsors and those who came to help make it all happen.

Speech and debate note: Besides the competitors, parents, and judges, there are an awful lot of behind-the-scenes people who make it all possible. Hats off to these, too many to name, and many of whom I either never saw, or only saw in passing as they were hurrying from one task to another.

And now we’re home, having spent a fair chunk of yesterday traveling home and then unpacking and settling down. Today is a day to do laundry, to regroup for a new week, to begin to catch up on everything that was set aside during the days we were preparing to go and the days we were away.

Oh, and a time to tend to a needy Schnoz who really, really missed us (she said so, in no uncertain terms), and to tend to a sick kid, who, tournament over, has succumbed to a nasty respiratory bug. You know how you can fight something off when you’re in the middle of an important endeavor, and the adrenaline and excitement keep you going, only to crash in the end?

Yeah, that’s about the size of it.

However, even with the exhaustion and illness that has her down today, she’d do it all over again. (And will, most likely. There are three more qualifying tournaments in the season, followed by Regionals. Nationals? Still a dream away. But more on all that, later.)

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