Monday, May 28, 2012

Tournament Maps

One time, I was at a tournament. It was at NITOC last year, and I had never been on the campus before, but my friend had. It was the first day, and he was going to watch a debate round. I decided I'd follow him because I wanted to watch a round too, and I didn't want to go by myself, and also I didn't know where anything was and besides, I wasn't very good at reading debate postings. We headed off to the building where the round he wanted to see was going to take place, but it wasn't where he thought it would be or something. We turned the other way and explored around there for awhile, and then back again. Then I pulled out my map. We walked in circles around that area of the college for a bit, while I stood amazed at how gorgeous the campus was and he stood confused at how puzzling the map was. I felt it would be rude to question his keen sense of direction, especially since I didn't know where we were going and have no sense of direction to speak of. So, for a while, I didn't. Until I realized something. "You're holding the map upside down," I said.

We found the room shortly afterward.
We missed the 1AC, but darn it, we found the room.

Tournament maps are wonderful inventions. Campuses for big tournaments tend to be really super spread out, at least here in California, so it's nice to have a layout that you can fold up in your pocket and pull out every time you want to go someplace new.

Such maps are particularly helpful when you have a ridiculous amount of events, for example. Everyone knows that if you have more than one speech, your speeches will never be near each other. In fact, in a particularly large campus, I'd be willing to bet that if I have five speeches in quarter-finals, I will be visiting five different buildings throughout the round. It's nice to know where those buildings are so I can plan the order I'll give my speeches in. Even in small campuses, it's good to be aware of your surroundings not only to strategically plan when you'll speak, but also to know where one might find a quiet place to practice or where to go to watch other speeches.

Tournament maps can also save you from, say, being late to a debate round, as long as you're holding it the right way. The idea is that you won't get lost. Just make sure the map isn't upside down. Also, maps of competition places allow us to find cool things like coffee shops and restrooms and parking lots. Lots of reasons to be grateful there. So thank you to the guy who decided to put maps of the competition locations in the giant yellow envelopes that will inevitably be distributed. I appreciate that guy.

You're homeschooled, and going places.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Trying to Figure Out Power-Matching

You know what's hard? Debate. You know what's harder?  Understanding debate. You know what's even harder? Scientifically analyzing debate.

I was at a homeschool party the other day where a super-cool debater I know was trying to explain debate to a non-debater. She took it way farther than I ever dared. In fact, at one point I heard her attempting to explain both speechranks and power-protecting for Nationals, which I know is different than power-matching. But still, both are complicated and hard to explain. Power-protecting is not that difficult of a concept to grasp. Actually, neither is power-matching. What's hard is figuring out how that particular implementation works at a real live tournament.

Ok, so, this was the first round, my third debate tournament ever: My partner and I hit a team that was about our same level (good, but not yet extraordinary), which was a nice way to start off the tournament. However, it was a case I'd never hit before and didn't know a lot about. I figured we lost. That is until the second round, when we hit a team that has 9 checkmarks on speechranks. NINE CHECKMARKS. They only had four or five at at the time, but still, I knew they were really good. I figured we lost that round too. Especially when he hit a team that we had hit at my first debate competition: a very novice team that you know will be good in a few years, but for now they were two twelve-year olds who switched speaker positions every other round, just for fun. I guessed that we won that round, but felt a little better because the other team had improved a lot in the recent months. In the fourth round, we hit a team that had gone 6-0 and won an earlier tournament. Any attempts to figure out/comprehend power-matching went out the window at that point.

Figuring out power-matching is not as easy as it sounds. There are, however, three exceptions: the first is if it sounds really, really, really, really difficult, which is probably accurate. But it is fun, apparently, because lots of people (attempt to) do it and seem to enjoy it. I get it. You want to know how you and everybody else are doing. That's cool; I sympathize. The second is if you're a genius and have a knack for this sort of thing. And some people do. I don't understand. Maybe it just comes with a lot of practice, of which I have little. Maybe you just have to know the teams really well to know who's the best, or know the judge pool too, to know when something abnormal may occur. Which it often does. Oh, the third is if you're in tab and have it on a computer in front of you. That probably makes it really easy.

What about you? What's your experience with attempting to solve the mysteries of power-matching? And is there like a secret formula that nobody's told me about or something?

You're homeschooled. So am I, which you probably figured out.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bizarre Behavior in Impromptu Prep Time

My favoritest part of watching impromptu speeches has always been observing the prep time, particularly because I used to be scared to death of limited-preps and thought anyone who did impromptu was the bravest person ever. I so enjoyed watching people stare at a smallish piece of paper for 2 minutes before standing up to deliver a work of absolute brilliance which demonstrated admirable courage that to them was a mere "impromptu speech." To me, it was magic. The cogs and wheels of each competitor's brain were turning and churning out a beautiful form of art as I stared with no notion of what was going on inside. Now that I've watched a ton more impromptus and even mustered up the bravery to compete in it myself, I've noticed some interesting patterns, behaviors, and strategies that occur during this preparation time (known to us in the business as "prep time"):

1. Note-taking
Those that have been reading this here blog for a while may have begun to suspect that I spend an abnormal and borderline-ridiculous amount of time studying the Stoa rules. (usually it's to make sure that all of my crazy ideas are actually legal) One thing that I did not realize at first (this was before I knew Stoa had a website) was that in impromptu, "[t]he speaker may write notes on a blank sheet of paper during preparation time, but he may not use or refer to the notes during his speech." I have never done this. I'm certain it would take me too long. However, I know lots of great speakers that depend on the note-taking-in-prep-time strategy. Besides being irrationally afraid that writing notes would waste valuable seconds, I am also often worried that I would forget my outline once I got up to speak, so writing it down would probably make sense, particularly given the amount of close-calls I've had in the past. Hmm, maybe it would be a good idea after all...

2. Zoning Out of the World and Staring at Something
I definitely do this. This tactic not only works well for me, it's one of the most fun to watch. Imagine a speaker has just received three prompts, which he flips through promptly (get it?) before placing two down on a nearby desk. Then, sitting at the desk, he begins to study the remaining prompt before letting his eyes shift to the floor which he focuses on so intently that one becomes convinced he's unsuccessfully attempting to blast it with his laser vision. Like this:

3. Pacing
The other day, I watched a friend of mine who prepared for his impromptu speech by pacing over virtually every square-inch of the room we were in. It was ridiculous. Hopefully he doesn't use that much of the space to pace in competition, because that would be incredibly distracting for judges who are trying to fill out ballots/keep a straight face. But pacing in limited quantities seems to be a decent tactic. Remember these words: it's ok to pace, but don't violate personal space.

What about you? What's your strategy? What's your favorite to watch?

You're homeschooled. That pretty much explains the bizarre behavior.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Our Stupendous Moms

I don't play sports. I had friends from school that played softball, but it wasn't my thing. Part of what I thought was weird about sports was all the traveling for competitions. Who would do that? I thought. It must just be really competitive moms who take their daughters to softball tournaments all throughout the state because my mom would never do that. 

I was wrong.

The first time I qualified for Nationals, I didn't really know anything about it. But it didn't matter, because there was no way we were going. I knew that the national tournament for the spelling bee was in Washington D.C. (at least it was in Akeelah and the Bee), so I figured speech and debate nationals would be there too, and that's a really big deal, so there was no way I was going.

I was wrong. Again.

Turns out, NITOC was in San Diego, which is only a few hours away, so we went. My mom took me. It was crazy. And this year, it's in Colorado, and we're flying there, and that's weird, but my mom's taking me because she's really great and she knows how much it means to me. I love that.

Being that it is Mother's Day, I thought I'd take the time to give a shout-out the moms we all love:

To the mom who is always really encouraging towards the entire team: thank you.
To the mom who transports the extemp boxes everywhere: thank you.
To the mom who takes drives us to tournaments when she doesn't have to: thank you.
To the mom who lets us stay in hotel rooms with her family: thank you.
To the mom who explains when certain scripts can be used for interps: thank you.
To the mom who tells us in exact detail how to improve: thank you.
To the mom who fills out the perfect ballot: thank you.
To the mom who judges a billion rounds at competition: thank you.
To the mom who gives us hugs at breaks: thank you.
To the mom who spends time working on our speeches at club: thank you.
To the mom who takes hours out of her day to work on speeches with us: thank you.
To the mom who meets often with everyone in Apologetics to go over stuff: thank you.
To the mom who judges debate rounds at club and gives great advice: thank you.
To the mom who makes sure that the Extempers are organized: thank you.
To the mom who does tab at every tournament: thank you.
To the mom who plans fun events for us: thank you.
To the mom who prays for us at competitions: thank you.

To the mom who tried to comfort me when I was told I couldn't go on the stage at my first awards ceremony even though I broke, because I didn't know you had to be in tournament dress and showed up in jeans: thank you. You have no idea how much that meant to me. Even though I didn't let you talk to me because I was mad, tired, and otherwise very emotional, it meant a lot because I knew that someone who wasn't even my own mom cared.

To the mom who prayed for me after I gave an impromptu for her that God would do great things in my life: thank you. I love knowing that you feel comfortable doing that, and that you care. Thank you for always being ready and willing to encourage me and give me a hug.

To the mom who was willing to pull me out of public school and give me a fantastic education, who lets me live this crazy life of a CHSADK, who took me to a tournament way back when to see if I would be interested in this debate thing, who pestered some other mom into telling us where the club closest to us was so I could join, who sent me to a speech and debate camp to see if I liked it, who was ok with me wanting to only do interps and not debate right away because it looked like a lot of work, who helps me cut pieces and watches them again and again, who takes me to tournaments even if we have to stay in hotels or fly in an airplane though that's expensive, who drives me to classes despite the fact that I could drive myself so I can do school in the car, who goes along with my crazy schemes and tries to find the perfect speeches, who loves me no matter what, even if I get 5th & Below every round: thank you. I love you.

You're homeschooled. Happy Mother's Day.

photo credit goes to the guy who took pictures at NITOC
my mom and me at NITOC 2010

Friday, May 11, 2012

Really Accurate Timers

Often our timers are referred to as the "unsung heroes" of Christian homeschooled speech and debate tournaments. And while that may be true sometimes, our timers also receive a lot of love. It's totally warranted, though. How many of us have had judges time us in IEs? Generally, they do pretty well at it; I mean, you only have to press stop and start, in interps and platforms, that is. But when the judges time limited prep speeches, it usually doesn't end as well. I mean, they try to give hand signals, listen, and make notes on the ballots at the same time, but it's hard. It tends not to end well. (I don't know how they do it in college debate.) Rounds like that make me appreciate the little timers even more.

As much as I love all good timers, the best timers are the really accurate ones. Wondering how to be a really accurate timer? I'm glad you asked:

1. Every second counts
Keep that in mind. See, I've timed debate before, so I know how it works. I'm not that great at it, but we'll get to that later. Every timer gets a sheet of paper that has a bunch of boxes on it, each representing ten seconds of prep time in debate. It's easy to get caught up in the ten-second groove, and round up to 40 when a debater uses 38 seconds of prep time. But the accurate and awesome timers don't get lazy like that. They know I'm gonna need those two seconds later. I tried to make sure that the debaters I timed got the right amount of the seconds, and I know it's not easy, because come the next prep time session you'll have to totally rework your counting, since you can't just mark a box every time the timer hits a zero. Nope, now you gotta watch for the eights. It's hard to explain without the timing handbook/paper, but it's important. I hope my people appreciated it. I know I would.

2. Proper Hand Signals
I was timing one of those rounds that I mentioned earlier. It was LD, which is nice because it's shorter than TP, but difficult because the times of speeches and Cross Examination are not nearly as straightforward. Policy is easy to remember: 8, 3, 8, 3, 8, 3, 8, 3, 5, 5, 5, 5. No problems there. LD isn't so straightforward: 6, 3, 7, 3, 4, 6, 3. I only know that because I looked it up on the Stoa rules. There's no pattern at all! It's ridiculous. How am I supposed to remember that when I do LD for real? Anyway, back onto hand signals. This particular speech I'm thinking of was the 4 minute one, I think. The 1AR. I had been keeping a steady eye on my timer, which now read 2:50. Ok, self, I told myself. In 10 seconds, you're going to put up one finger. 10..9..8..7..6..5..4..3..2..1! And then, thinking about the 10 seconds thing, I put up ten fingers. The poor debater stared at me with really wide eyes which portrayed utter shock at my abominable betrayal, but I very quickly corrected myself and then he laughed softly and probably out of relief and kept talking. I felt sooo bad. So don't be like me, kids. Stay on top of things. We love it when you do that.

3. Yell when the time is up
I'm bad at this too. Wow, I'm just the negative example a lot lately. Anyway, I was always too afraid to cut off a debater mid-Cross Ex just because three minutes was up. Also, I had a non-beeping timer, so that wasn't helpful. I was too scared to even mutter the word, "Time." That's interrupting and interrupting is rude and I'm not even debating anyway, so what right do I have to speak up? Instead I just sat there with my hands in the shape of a T for ten seconds sometimes, panicking internally at the disgusting insubordination. Don't do this either. You are the timer and you are in charge.

I hope you learned a thing or two, should you be timing someday or training younger siblings to time sometime. It's harder than it looks, but becoming a good and accurate timer is an achievable and worthy goal nonetheless. Make sure you thank your timer a lot next time. Shake his hand really emphatically. Consider buying him an ice cream or something. Let them know they are loved.

You're homeschooled, make no mistake.

Monday, May 7, 2012

When You Realize You're Qualified for Nationals

Judging by the fact that you're reading this, you're probably familiar with how the qualification system for Stoa's National Invitational Tournament of Champions works. It's fairly simple: everybody on who has two green checkmarks (representing finishes in the top 40% or a winning record in debate) in a NITOC event will receive an invitation to compete at Nationals. Oh, and if you're #1 in your state in any given speech event, you can also be invited regardless of checkmarks. Plus they invite the top two TP teams and top two LDers from each state too. And if you have just one checkmark in Original Interp, this year's Wildcard, then you also get invited. Like I said, it's not too complicated, except for when it is. Most people who qualify get there by way of having two green checkmarks, so that's generally what we think of when we think of qualifying for Nationals. It's much simpler that way.

Sometimes, us CHSADK's will find ourselves at a tournament. That actually happens a lot. But what doesn't happen a lot is a certain realization we sometimes get. It goes like this: Whoa. I broke. I just got a checkmark, in addition to the one I already have, making this my second checkmark. OH MY GOSH THAT MEANS I'M QUALIFIED AAAHHH!!!

It's a great feeling.

I remember the first time I realized I was qualified for NITOC. It was actually nothing like the experience I just described. A friend ran up to me at speech club a few days after my first tournament (back when you only needed one check to qualify) and yelled, "CHANDLER. You're qualified for Nationals!!" and I replied, "Oh, ok, awesome!" but I didn't really know what that meant. I asked my coach, and he said that yes, I had indeed qualified. I was surprised. You can qualify after only one tournament? Wow. Cool.

Of course, it's not quite that easy any more. Perhaps that just adds to the excitement. My duo partner and I were at a tournament this year where, before the competition began, the tournament people posted a spreadsheet that showed who was in each event online. The purpose was to double-check for registration, but I took it as a chance to count up all the competitors in my events, do the math, and figure out where the top 40 lines would be drawn. At that tournament, they broke finals and semis at the same time. When they called us for finals, I was super excited because I knew: we were qualified! YAY!! My duo partner, however, didn't quite realize it at first. I turned to face where he was sitting a few seats over and drew a checkmark with my finger. He smiled and gave me a thumbs up. Then, a moment later, his eyes lit up and he whispered, "OH. We're qualified!" That was a wonderful moment. It was pretty much exactly like what I described earlier.

Sometimes, though, people get checkmarks in events, but they don't break, especially in impromptu. Or, maybe they do break, but they're never really sure if they were 4-2 or maybe 3-3 with high speaks. Don't you love seeing that slide at the awards ceremony that has a picture of a checkmark and your name on it? Doesn't it just wipe away all doubt and make your day? It doesn't matter whether you broke or not. If you get a checkmark, especially a second one, you'll be pretty happy.

And then you go home and stalk speechranks for a few days until they put up results. If you weren't convinced you qualified before, now it's official! And if you're still not convinced, wait until you get that NITOC invite. That, my friend, is a great moment.

You're homeschooled. See you at NITOC?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Debaters and Their Rolly Luggage- Katherine Kwong

(Katherine is super and awesome, and she wrote the latest super awesome Guest Post! Yay!)

When I first joined speech and debate, which was in 2009, our first impression upon arriving at a tournament was, “WOW, look at all the blacks suits!” our second impression was, “What is all this rolly luggage for?” “Oh, those people are debaters,” my dad answered (he is quick to notice those things). 

Technically, I know, “rolly” is not a word. However it adequately describes the black luggage a debater rolls around. Here are several things I have noted about debaters and their rolly luggage. If you are a debater, then take pride that your rolly luggage accomplishes at least one of the following things.
1. It makes a queer noise. 
You know that sound of wheels in hall or on a sidewalk, kinda roll, roll roll shooooooogghghghghghghghghhgghhshooooghghgoo, *click  *clack…..stomp, stomp stomp stomp stomp, *shick  *click , roll, roll roll, roll. That was a debater with rolly luggage walking down a sidewalk, hitting bumpy cobblestone, going down stairs and then walking on another sidewalk (it helps to say the sounds out loud.) If you’re a speaker you know the sound of rolly debater luggage going by your speaking room when you are trying to say your fantastic speech. Not only do the wheels make funny noises but the handle does too. I was in a hallway that was absolutely quiet, when I heard this ominous *schick *click *clack. I was ready to throw my hands in the air and say, “no officer it was not me!” When I looked behind and thought, “Ohhh….it’s just a debater collapsing the handle of her rolly luggage." Rolly luggage makes a queer noise, 'nuff said.
2. It makes you get out of the way.
When you hear the queer noise of the luggage behind you, you are best advised to step aside lest you be crushed under the superior ball bearing wheels and reinforced bottom of some debater’s rolly luggage. Debaters take up the majority of any sidewalk with their luggage, so stay at least a block a head of them. Seriously, debaters should have their own crosswalks. 
3. Rolly luggage gets in the way. 
If you have tripped over a debater’s rolly luggage, they merely pull them close and say, “sawy.” The other much more annoying thing is when postings are up. In the ubiquitous posting mush-pot, you notice a space in one of the best vantage points to see the precious postings. Upon inquiry (and a shove) as to why no one is standing in that prime spot, you realize that, “Oh, a debater’s rolly luggage is in it.” The debater with his luggage is so busy looking for his friend’s posting that apparently he has no idea he is an inconvenience. Simply put, his luggage is in the way (also he does not even have a speech, he looking for his friend’s speech). 
4. Debater’s are protective of their rolly luggage. 
A debater’s rolly luggage is much like his second arm, or leg, or maybe brain (on account of the 15lbs of TP evidence and briefs in it). Debaters are CONSTANTLY seen with their rolly luggage. At postings, at rounds, at coming back from rounds, at lunch! They lean their arms causally on the top handle as if it were a portable armchair. They almost never leave their luggage alone; for fear it will be lost in the 10 dozen other luggage bags that resemble it. When a debater loses (God forbid) his rolly luggage, immediately, 3 club moms will branch out in search parties to reunite their tearful debater with his rolly luggage and precious evidence. Simply put, place a nametag on your luggage.
4. Debater’s rolly luggage is like Mary Poppin’s carpetbag. 
One upside to debater’s rolly luggage is the fact that they can carry SO much. Not only can they fit files packed with evidence and briefs in them, but also they manage to fit, water, post its, pens, lunch, (and for girls) hair care products, another jacket, or whatever it is, you name it!
You’re homeschooled, you own rolly luggage, *click!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

When The Door Closes After A Round

"Thank you, and I strongly urge an affirmative ballot."
scattered applause
"Thank you for judging."
"Thank you so much for judging."
"And thank you for timing!"
"Thanks for timing."
shuffling of papers. zipping of bags. snap of caps being put back onto pens.
The judge stands. Everyone stops and smiles as she walks out.
"Thanks again for judging!"
The door opens. Everyone stares. They watch. They wait. And then.
The door is closed.
sigh of relief.

You know that moment when a door closes after a debate round and you feel an overwhelming and wonderful sense of not being on ceremony anymore? It suddenly hits you that the round is over and you don't have to deal with the Death Tax or economic security or whatever anymore. You don't have to worry about what a judge thinks of you either. That is, until the next round. But that's really far away. You don't want to think about that now. Forget questions of policies and values. The most important question now is: when's lunch?

But first, the judge is gone, so you and your opponent(s) don't have to be all argumentative anymore. I love it when the door closes and then one of the kids I've just been debating gives me a hug. That doesn't happen very often, which is really too bad, because it's quite great. Usually I just say, "good job, guys," or something. And then they say, "Yea, you too." Sometimes, if I feel like I lost the round and I'm embarrassed, I ask:
"How long have you guys been debating?"
"It's my 4th year, and her 5th."
"Oh, cool."
"What about you?"
"My first?"

And then they act surprised and I feel much better. I would never want to admit in the round that it's my first year, because people have a strange idea that first years aren't very good at debate, but I definitely want to use that as an excuse so the other team doesn't think poorly of me. It seems to work out pretty ok. Plus, I generally enjoy engaging the other team in conversation after the round, regardless of any secret goals. Debaters are cool people, and I like them, even if I didn't particularly like them moments before.

Immediately after the door shuts is a good time to turn to your partner and say, "I can't believe you said that."and yell at him or her for something. But in a nice way, because that's what partners are for. That and making the arguments you don't want to make. Note: not a good idea in LD.

If you're watching your friend in a round, now is also a great time to go up and high-five them and comment on the debate. I always did that as a non-debater. Well, sort of. I didn't really comment on the round because I didn't really understand what anyone had said, but I definitely leapt out of my seat to go see the debater I was rooting for. It made me feel like I was part of the round.

The door is shut. The tension is lifted. No one is watching.

You're homeschooled, but you can stop being a debater and go be a kid now.