November 15, 2006

Anatomy of a Speech Tournament

I've already shown a little bit of what we do on weekends, although that was only one kind of speech, and only from the student's perspective. So I figured it was time to see what goes on behind the scenes.

Here we see three of our "tab" (short for tabulation, aka "Headquarters") workers, ready to start the day: L-R, Michael, Emily, and the famous Jane.

If you have no idea about what competitive speech and debate is, the closest analogy in the sports world is probably track and field. Just like track and field, there are two main kinds of events: speeches (Individual Events, or "IE's", even though one of them involves two people!) and debates, which may involve two people on a team, or one competing person alone. IE's have preliminary rounds that work very much like track and field, in that they are generally randomly matched, and the best performances from there get to advance to finals (except, of course, in National Forensic League tournaments; they have their own very specific rules, built around a double-elimination system. Don't try this at home.) Debate, on the other hand, generally works like college basketball; once one or two rounds have happened, a system of bracketing is used. Most tournaments "power-match" within brackets; some tournaments, at some times, "power-protect" (i.e., the 8th ranked team is put against the 1st ranked team. It always makes life easier for the people tabulating when that 1st ranked team wins, but they have to prove their worth!)

Although there are many different kinds of speeches, and different flavors of debates, it's not necessary to understand them all to understand how we do the calculations of winning and losing. There is one more handy thing to know about scoring, though, and that is the difference between rank (or win/loss in debate) and rate. "Rank" is basically how someone places in an IE round: 1st, 2nd, etc. "Rate" is how they compare to the world at large, and since some people would rather die than do public speaking, the points start at 15 or 20 or so, and go up from there to show better performance. "Rate" in debate is called speaker points, and we use rate, in general, to break ties whenever we need to (students can also get "speaker awards" in debate, since the best speaker is not always guaranteed to win the debate, or the tournament--just look at the last Presidential election--but is worthy of acknowledgment anyhow.) [Here's Laura, hard at work being spun around by one of our worthy babysitters; Laura's job at tournaments it to look cute, try not to fuss, and distract Emily. Note the plethora of toys scattered on the library floor in the background; we try to go prepared!]

Before a tournament starts, we assign "codes" for each competitor. They're usually alphanumeric (i.e., "A12"), with the letter representing the school, and the number, the particular speaker. It's quicker to write them than names, and it's also supposed to keep the suspense up a bit for the students about who they may compete against (in theory.) It also makes matching up rounds easier, since obviously we don't want two "A's" debating against each other if we can help it (though students from the same school often have to compete against each other in IE's, we can at least see and minimize it as much as possible.) In debate, we have a card made of cardstock for each competitor (they're yellow in the picture), so we can keep track of who they've hit in each round, which side they were on (since we try to alternate Affirmative and Negative positions each round), the win/loss record and speaker points. If you look closely, you'll see that we lay them out in pairs, so it's easy to tell at glance what the match-ups are. In IE's, we just usually make a list of all the codes for each event, with a grid to keep track of their rates/ranks in each round.

Next, we match the first round. It's usually pretty quick for debate--just lay all the cards down and make sure nobody from the same school is competing against each other. Same drill for IE's, except we have to divide them into "panels" of around 6 (sometimes 4 or 5, sometimes 7) speakers. Once the first round is done, we can do all the other preliminary round matching of IE's; we wait until then because sometimes students "drop" out of the competition without telling us (emergency, sickness, or just general flakiness). Once all the matching up is done, we make ballots for the judges, with all the code information included. For debate, we use NCR paper so each competitor (and the tournament itself) can have a copy of the feedback and results, and for IE's, there are individual ballots to provide feedback to each competitor (they get them after the tournament is over) plus a "cover sheet" that sums up the scores for the busy people in the back room. [The picture shows cover sheets for two different events--we try to color code as much as possible to keep us from going any more insane--and a "cum sheet" for whatever the event with the yellow cover sheet was.]

Confused yet? I have heard speech and debate referred to as a cult...

Next, the ballots have rooms marked on them, we make a "posting" to put up that shows the codes matched up to their rooms (so the students know where to go to speak), and judges are assigned for each ballot (one per judge, although sometimes more than one judge is needed for a particular round, notably, finals.)

Okay, so the first round is finished, the speakers have spoken, the judges have judged, and we have a stack of ballots back. We record win/loss records and speaker points for debate (That's what Jane and Patrick are doing here; Pat's reading the scores, while Jane records them. We try, whenever possible, to work in pairs so we can catch any mistakes. "If it doesn't make it out the door, it's not a mistake!" is our motto.), then create piles of cards ("brackets") based on win/loss records: at this point, 1-0 or 0-1. Then we try to match up debaters within brackets; if there's an uneven number in the top bracket, we "draw up" one poor soul, randomly, to compete in the bracket above where they should be. We try to make sure debaters get to be on the side they weren't just debating, for variety and competitiveness reasons, and again try to keep people from the same team from going up against their sparring partners from home. Then we get to repeat the recording of information on ballots for the next round. We repeat the process as needed. Ideally, finals are decided on win/loss record, but usually, there's either only one undefeated team or there are more than two, so we use speaker points to decide who gets to go to finals (highest points get to go to the Bowl Game, as it were.)

If you're still with me, we also have the IE's to deal with. For those, we just record the "rank" and "rate" in each round as they come to us. Once all the preliminary rounds are done, we figure out the finalists. Generally, the magic number of competitors we aim for is six (or, half of the total number in the event, if it's really small--like, four finalists if there were only eight competitors.) We add up the "ranks", so that if they got 1st in the first round, 2nd in the second round, and 1st again in the third round, they would have a score of 4 (1+2+1=4; darn good.) [Patrick can be seen here working on some of the math for an IE; Emily is supervising.] The people with the lowest scores here go on to finals; if some have the same (low) scores, we go to "rates" again (or some other things) to see if we can break the tie (it's more complicated than that, but I don't think you want to know the whole list of tie breakers. One of them involves reciprocal fractions. Trust me on this; you don't want to know.) Once the finalists are chosen, we randomly order them (there's a whole body of knowledge about speaker order and its effects on both the judges and the performers...), fill out ballots (again), post the information, and enjoy the screaming. [That's what Emily's excited about...perhaps.]

I bet you can figure out from there how we figure out awards once we get the finals ballots back.

While all of this is going on, we're also collecting and sorting the ballots to go back to the individual speakers and debaters. We sort them out by school (using those handy codes), and generally stick them in a manila envelope (see photo, below, of the ballots being sorted by school) to be examined by the coaches and students after they've left the tournament site (always hoping that there is useful information from the judges in there on what they did well, and what they could do better.) We're also saving records as we go--cover sheets from IE's and one copy of each debate ballot--in case there's a problem.

There is always a problem. Students go to the wrong room, and don't get heard. Debaters do all manner of weird things. Judges forget to fill out their ballots right, or even completely. Somebody does something bizarre in a round and we have to check to see if it made any difference at all in the scores. And then, there is always the chance that we somehow messed up...that's one reason that in every school packet is also a set of "cums"--that's pronounced kee-yoooms, short for "cumulative" scores, and yes, I realize it looks just like another word that is pronounced and means something entirely different. And no, you don't want to know how often we say "cum sheet" in the tab room. But we are always careful to pronounce it correctly! Anyway, there's a listing in there (often in tiny print, to save copy money) of every competitor's scores and win/loss records.

After that, we clean up the room we've been working in, make sure the teacher's rooms are in good shape, find food (I do NOT cook on nights after a speech tournament!), come home and collapse. (Some of us collapse a little early; here we see Grant, another coach's son, snuggling Emily. I already told her he's way too old for her.)


Anonymous said...

My friend Shannon was happy to see one of her crocheted creations still being loved after 6 years of use over here. :)

Ginger Ogle said...

OMG! Those balls are THE action item when we "go see where Daddy works." Not only are the girls enamored of them, but the babysitters and other speechies are always asking, "Where did you *get* these?" and I have to explain that it was a friend of a friend...