Category Archives: NCFCA


The last speech and debate qualifier tournament is now officially behind us. There were five qualifiers over the season, and we went to every one. In case you were wondering, the “qualifier” means that if you have a winning record at a tournament, you get an invitation (or qualify) to compete in the regional competition. Middlest and her debate partner qualified four times over, and learned valuable lessons in the tournament where they did not qualify. A winning record, in case you were wondering, is winning at least four out of six debate rounds. There’s also a deal where you can win three and lose three and still qualify if the judges give you high points for your speaking skills, but I don’t really know how that works.

We traveled all over the region to these tournaments. Well, not quite “all.” There wasn’t a tournament in California, but there were tournaments in each of the other states in the region. Our shortest drive was about 40 minutes, the longest took the better part of a day.

We were blessed to have “host housing” when we traveled out of town. This is where people open their homes to far-from-home students and their families. Some of the hosts have students who are competing, but this wasn’t the case in three of the four homes where we stayed. Some were church friends, some had been involved in speech and debate but their children had graduated, and the last family we stayed with were homeschool graduates themselves, and had competed in speech and debate in the early days of the NCFCA!

Not only do I find homeschool graduates encouraging, I find a lot of them amazing, and this young family fit into that category.

They apologized for the fancy car parked in front of their house. (I hadn’t even noticed the car — in our neighborhood, other people park in front of our house all the time. Makes it hard to find parking sometimes.) They wanted us to know that they weren’t the kind of status-seekers who go into big debt to buy an impressive car; they had won the car in a contest.

I’ve never known somebody who won a car in a contest before. Amazing.

They showed us the ad with them and the car. Not only did they win a car in a contest, but they won a car in a contest in Rolling Stone magazine, and went to the Grammy awards, and were featured in a full-page ad in the magazine. The photo they submitted for the contest was on their refrigerator, and I can see why it caught editors’ attention: The family business is zipline gear, and their Christmas card photo (the one on the fridge) shows the mom dangling upside down from a zipline, calmly kissing her hubby while the little kids hang around in helmets and zipline harnesses (not literally hanging from the zipline, I mean, just casually standing around looking preschool cool).

Now, we were told repeatedly that host families only provide a spot to sleep. You might very likely have to bring your own sleeping bags and be prepared to camp out on the floor, or a sofa, or a blow-up mattress. Host families might provide refrigerator space (we always asked for this as we are gluten free) but they don’t, as a rule (this was emphasized to us when we were learning about the host housing option), provide any meals.

These guys had been to tournaments; they knew what we were facing: grueling 14-hour days, a 40 minute drive from their house to the school where the tournament was held, leaving before 7 and getting back late. The mom baked a huge batch of gf muffins the day we arrived, one big bowl of dairy-free and one big bowl with dairy. She used a Pamela’s mix as a base for her muffin recipe. I’d never eaten Pamela’s products before. Let me tell you, those muffins were delicious. She also set up a French press before she went to bed each night, and a teakettle full of water waited on the stove when I got up, which meant all I had to do was turn on the stove on my way to the bathtub, and pour the boiling water into the French press on my way back to the spare room where we were bunking in. Coffee and muffins and even yogurt for breakfast, perfect for a quick starter.

They also fed us dinner after our long drive to get there, the day before the tournament began. What a treat! It was good, too, roast chicken and cottage potatoes and fresh green beans, pretty similar to the way we cook at our house. They have gluten-free family members as well, so they understood our constraints and concerns.

Oh, and that spare room? No sleeping on the floor, no, the two girls shared a futon and we parents had an inflated mattress, and our host family provided bedding and towels, what luxury!

Probably the best part of our stay were the conversations. The evening we arrived, we talked over chocolate and tea, a wide range of subjects, from ziplines to adventure movies to literature to homeschooling. The talk was lively and interesting — and so was the early morning conversation I enjoyed with the little ones as I poured out the coffee, peeled hard-boiled eggs and set out muffins on plates. With Youngest being 14, I miss those childish insights in the morning. (Of course, when I was a younger mom, I didn’t really appreciate them, being desperate for more sleep and wondering just how a child who’d been up and singing in her bed at midnight could be so bright and chatty at six a.m….)

Anyhow, it was a good trip, and now I’m in full-blown catch-up mode. So I’m going to have to cut this off short today. Hope to see you again in a day or two! Thanks for listening.

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.)