PART THREE: AMERICAN POLICY DEBATE TOURNAMENTS
JANUARY 3, 2003 WILLIAM JEWELL TOURNAMENT DAY 1
Everyone was down at the vans within a few minutes of our rendezvous time and we piled into the van ready for day one. It was a short drive to the tournament and we had the music blaring. Some of the students did speaking drills in the van as we drove. Arriving at William Jewell College we unloaded all of our tubs of evidence and arguments and the students rushed for the breakfast foods. USA tournaments feature that traditional debate food -- the doughnut. Usually dipped in heavy sugar syrup that solidifies around them, they provide calories to keep the debaters running. Sometimes bagels are added to the mix (with various flavors of cream cheese to put on them), and occasionally there will be fruit. Of course, there is always coffee, sometimes tea and orange juice. At William Jewell they also had their famous hot-spiced apple cider.
People generally arrive one hour before the debates, as that is when the pairings are often released. The coaching that takes place before a policy debate is very intense. Usually the negative team will ask the affirmative team for a copy of their “plan” in what has become an almost universal practice of disclosure. Teams also “scout” each other and keep detailed records of what their arguments are and how they respond to specific issues raised by other teams. These are used to base preparation on. Often teams do extensive research based on the most recent scouting reports so that they can be as ready as possible. Then both teams will meet with coaches and talk about very specific arguments and even specific pieces of evidence to use. The way in which the arguments work together in a “strategy” is also very important. The strategy will also reflect who the assigned judge is, and the sorts of preferences she or he has. Often there are files to be fetched and arguments to be written down to be used in the debate. This is exactly what took place before round one at William Jewell and all of the debates after that. This can be a difficult and complex process if you have four teams as we did at Jewell, and even more so at other tournaments where we have had as many as 15 teams entered.
This tournament I was in the tab room, so I depended on them to do the vast majority of the coaching. Helen Morgan and Justin Parmett are our main coaches. They were both Vermont debaters who went on to get masters degrees in communication and coached at other schools before returning. Both are faculty members at the university. Others on this trip included Gordie Miller, another former Vermont debater who has coached at places like Arkansas State and Cornell University, and now lives in Vermont and is a very active supporter of our program, judging and coaching. Two others came along with us, both seniors, Lana Langsweirdt and Shane Egizi. Shane judged and helped coach teams. Lana coached and also kept our intelligence report of opposition arguments and cases. One other excellent addition was Jackie Massey. Jackie was on our faculty for four years and was a really excellent coach for us. He now lives in Oklahoma and came up to visit us and help out. He was very welcome. One thing I am proud of is that people associated with our program continue to support us and help us.
| Jeff Jarman has too many computers | Eli Crittenden of Emporia speaks |
In the tab room Jeff Jarman and I were using Rich Edwards' program (TabRoomPC, although I usually use TabRoomMac). The teams, judges, classrooms, and parameters are entered and then the program creates two pre-set rounds randomly. Judges are then assigned to these debates to maximize their mutual judge preference (both rated judge as 1, both rated judge as 2, etc.) and we had 1-1 matches in over 90% of the debates. We record thee ballots as they come in and then pair the next round and assign judges using the program as soon as the last ballot comes in. Ballots for policy debates can be a little slow coming in. The debates are very complex and sometimes judges spend considerable amounts of time (20-30 minutes) reviewing notes and looking at evidence before making a decision. It takes just a few seconds to pair the next debate after the last result is in. The pairings are printed and then photocopied so that everyone can have one (most keep them on file to refer to later when, for example, you are negative against a school; you look and see who was affirmative against them recently and ask them about their arguments). The program then prints the ballots with all the information on them. The ballots are taken to a central table for judges to pick up. Sometimes judges go to their rounds without their ballots or may not show up, in what case runners take ballots to rooms or judges are replaced by using the computers database and new judges sent to those rooms. Debates start when they start, and not all at the same time. It is often wise to leave 30-45 minutes of open time in the schedule between when the pairings are released and when the debate will actually start. If you tell them to start in 15 minutes they will still start in 30-45 minutes, so most tournament hosts have given up trying. The debates will start and end, ballots will come back to thee ballot collection table, they will be checked for completeness, and then taken to the tab room as the process repeats itself.
The first two rounds of William Jewell went off smoothly with a minimum of judge changes. Lunch was served in the main school cafeteria, although Jeff Jarman and I had lunch in the tabulation room as we continued to work. After lunch we had two power-paired debates (teams meet others with the same record) and again things seemed to go smoothly.
Our Vermont teams were having a difficult struggle on the first day. We had two junior varsity eligible debaters entered in the varsity division and three novice eligible teams entered in the junior varsity division. These tournaments were planned to be a challenge and a learning experience for our teams, and it was working out that way. They kept their spirits up and although we didn’t have many victories on this day I was pleased at their focus and the way they kept their spirits up.
| Christy Webster & Jon Vermitsky of Rochester | American policy debaters have lots of papers |
After round four my group went back to the hotel and on to dinner while Jeff and I tabulated the last round and then paired round five. I caught a ride with Jeff and his Wichita State debaters back to the hotel. I met up with my group and visited for a while, and then went off to dinner myself. By the time dinner was over it was a bit late and I was ready for some sleep.
JANUARY 4, 2003 WILLIAM JEWELL TOURNAMENT DAY 2
The second day at an American policy debate tournament is a bit tenser than the first. The first day will have some pre-set debates to get things started, so the debates can happen one right after another. The second day there will be “power pairing” after each round so that teams with the same records will meet each other. As the day goes on each team meets a mirror image of themselves in terms of performance at that tournament, so the debates are better because they are more evenly matched. Also, some teams are rolling along with good records and quite early on reach enough wins to guarantee their ascension into the elimination rounds, while others are struggling to avoid elimination as they reach their “break” rounds (enough wins to quality) or their “out” rounds where one more loss and they will have too many to reach elimination rounds on the last day. Still other teams have already lost their chance to be in the elimination rounds but still have to continue debating during the preliminary debates. The status of all the teams is known because it is almost a universal practice for judges to reveal their decisions immediately after the debates and give comments to the debaters. These are rarely teaching comments (although some judges do a very good job pf this) but are decision comments about how the decision was made and why. This is usually quite a specific discussion and may involve reference to the wording of evidence and very specific response that might have been made at high speed.
| Judge Jessica Perkins of Wichita State | Tom Marples and Steve D'Amico of Rochester |
The high speed of American policy debate is troubling for many people. While there is certainly always a comprehension threshold that some debaters may cross, and speed alone does not guarantee improved content, there are a number of reasons why such high-speed delivery is not as ridiculous as it might seem on first exposure.
Fast debate can be bad just as slow debate can be bad. But, fast debate can be good just as slow debate can be good. Debate is debate, and different styles teach different skills. Don’t close your mind to it just because it is new and different. Just as policy debaters arte wrong when they say that slower parliamentary debate is "stupid," parliamentary debaters are wrong when they say that fast paced policy debate is "gibberish."
This was a particularly difficult day for our debaters. Things did not go well and thee wins were few and far between, but the spirits were high and the effort remained high as well. One team, Carlos Varela and Colin Kern, finished as the top novice eligible team in the junior varsity division, and thus were announced as participating in the novice final that would take place the next day.
After round seven all teams with records of 4-3 or better were put into a partial double octafinal bracket for sudden death debates (three judges in each debate) to determine the top 16 teams who would compete in the octafinals the next morning. Five teams had records good enough not to have to debate in this round. Our students remained to watch some debates (you always learn a lot from the better teams who advance) and then it was back to the hotel for dinner at Applebee’s once again, because just about everything was closed except for fast food and the Waffle House. I remained at the tournament to set up the pairings and the judging panels for the next day’s octafinal and then joined my students at the hotel.
JANUARY 5, 2003 WILLIAM JEWELL TOURNAMENT DAY 3
This day the tasks were clear -- win the novice final, get some great barbecue at Arthur Bryant's, have our celebration dinner, and then get ready for another tournament, this time an eight round affair at UMKC.
| Debater at work | Edward Lee of the University of Alabama judges a debate |
Carlos and Colin defeated Rochester 3-0. They were affirmative and Rochester again failed to take their measure. They had defeated Rochester on the affirmative 3-0 in the final round at Binghamton in the last tournament of our fall semester, and it was good to see them hold fast again. Carlos and Colin are really an interesting team. Carlos is from Puerto Rico and his first language is Spanish. His ability to debate successfully in English is impressive, as is his dedication and creativity. Colin is also very unique. I am not even sure where he comes from. He walked on to the squad a few weeks ago and didn’t start debating until November at West Point. He had only been to two tournaments when the swing started, and had cleared at the first tournament (winning an elimination round) and had won the second tournament. It was good to see he and Carlos taking the challenge by debating in JV, and even if they did not clear in that higher division they had proven themselves to be the best novice team of those at William Jewell. While they seemed happy, I know they have high goals and aspirations.
The novice final took place during the varsity octafinals and the JV quarterfinals. The results came in and Jeff Jarman and I recorded them and then set the judging panels for the next elimination debates. It was time for the awards assembly and Gina Lane asked me if I would read the speaker awards, something I look to do with zest to congratulate students for their achievement.
| William Jewell awards | Awards assembly audience at Jewell |
One unfortunate thing about American policy debate is that women are not well-represented at the most experienced levels. In the lower divisions women and well represented and win more awards than men, yet at the top level there are fewer women and fewer of them win awards. Before I read the list of top speakers I noted for the audience that the results at this tournament were another indication of this, and that people should come to their own conclusions as to why it is true. I certainly do not think it is because women cannot be as good at debating as men, as my own experience of 30 years disproves this. I believe that women face marginalizing behavior from their coaches, from their judges, and from their fellow debaters, especially those who are male. Debate is a powerful way for young people to 'find their voice,' and I believe that women can and should benefit from this experience. I cannot change what others do, but I can call it to the attention of the debate community and make sure that it is not true of my actions or of the environment we create in our debate program.
| Arthur Bryant's, KC's (and perhaps the world's) best barbecue |
After the awards assembly we gathered together for a trip to a legendary Kansas City restaurant, Arthur Bryant's. It is a traditional restaurant featuring the best in smoked and barbecued meats. Meats are hung in a brick chimney built into the ground and cooked very slowly with wood fires, with the smoke from the fires basting every part of the meat. I am not sure how they really do it, but it has an incredible flavor and an amazing tenderness. They also have a special sort of sauce that is like no other such sauce I have tasted. It is not sweet and although it is red it does not seem to be heavily laced with tomato. It almost has a sort of gritty consistency, but the flavor mixes well with the meat. The other factor is the size of the portions. A simple beef and pork combination sandwich is hardly a sandwich at all, but rather two huge piles of meat with a few pieces of bread thrown in between.
| Arthur Bryant's: the editorial cartoon, the smoky hole out of which the meat comes |
You walk into the restaurant, which is in a traditional African American part of town (quite near to the Negro Baseball League Hall of Fame and the Kansas City Jazz Museum), and you can smell the smoke and the meat immediately. There are few items on the menu, and you step forward to a simple counter with windows separating you from the workers and the smoking meat pit, and call your order through one of the open windows, and then watch as they assemble your plate. There are open stacks of white and wheat bread there, and it is advisable to take a hand full of additional bread slices because there is so much meat in your order. You move down the line and they hand it to you as you proceed to check out and drink order. I always get the friend potatoes as well, and I am not sure what they do but they are the best fried potatoes I have ever had. We would have fried potatoes with almost every meal while in Belgrade, and while good, each time I would harken back to Arthur Bryant’s.
The restaurant has been there for quite a long time, and has been visited by presidents (several) as well as an emperor (Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, the god of the rastas such as Bob Marley). The walls contain numerous articles from newspapers and magazines. My favorite on the wall is a framed editorial cartoon from the Kansas City Times. The day after Arthur Bryant died this cartoon was published, and it showed Arthur Bryant entering the gates of heaven and being welcomed by a very excited St. Peter, who asked, “Did you bring sauce?”
The students seemed to love it and recognized it as a unique food event in an America increasingly dedicated to interchangeable fast food sold by disinterested workers amidst a celebration of the triumph of plastic. We finished and left, a happy but very full crew. Some vegetarians had stayed behind, and I completely understand and honor that. We drove back to the hotel and my hope was that they would get some work done this afternoon in preparation for the next tournament. I myself went back to the tournament to finish my duties in tabulation. I later found out that just about everyone fell asleep in the struggle to digest the victuals provided by Arthur Bryant’s.
Back at the tournament things were going well. Two of my favorite teams reached the final round, the University of North Texas, coached in this instance by Justin Green, and Emporia State University, coached by Ken Delaughder and James Taylor. Once that round was set and the judges assigned my job was done. Just in time I received a phone call from Greg Turner about his dinner plans for our group.
Greg Turner is a former debater who received an advanced degree from the University if Kansas, where I had received mine, and then gone on to become very successful in the mortgage banking business. We had seen each other off and on over the years, but we had touched base in a very jolly way in the fall at the University of Kansas debate reunion, something I had not planned to attend but eventually did because of the lobbying by my former debaters and colleagues there. He had indicated that he really enjoyed supporting debate, and offered to take our group out to dinner when we were in his neighborhood for these two tournaments. We had spoken about it previously and set a day, and this was the day, the time between tournaments. I never want to miss an opportunity to provide a free group meal to my hungry and jolly students.
Greg had made reservations at a restaurant call The Cedars, featuring Mediterranean food. This was a good choice because such food is the opposite of most fast food fare, being fresh and unprocessed, and it offered excellent options for our vegetarians. Upon my return to the hotel people were ready to be distracted from their labors (or had slept off the effects of Arthur Bryant’s). Greg met us at the hotel and we boarded our vans to be guided to the restaurant.
The restaurant was in an interesting little old town on the shores of the Missouri river. It had been a shipping town for products from the region to be moved south on the smooth waters, often as far as New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. Now, the town had become a art and tourist community that also hosted a small university. The Cedars itself was very near the banks of the river and a railroad crossing. It looked like it would be a fabulous place to dine on a warm summer day as it had a huge veranda overlooking the river. On this day in January, however, we were glad to be inside in a very cozy atmosphere with all 20 or so of us at a single table.
The talk was jolly and the fellowship was warm. The food was fresh and delicious, and I enjoyed everything about it. Greg asked if we would go around the table so each debater could say something about themselves and their debate experience, and this provided a lot of entertainment as well as information. It was especially nice for me to get to talk to Greg’s partner, Joanne, and her son during the meal. The time sped past and before I knew it the fun food event was over. Gratitude towards Greg gushed. We struggle very hard to make our budget last as we have one of the three largest debate teams in America (with half as much money as those with as many debaters as we have) and it is very special to know that our efforts are supported by someone like Greg, who understands and appreciates what debate can do for young people because it did wonderful things for him.
As you become successful and prosperous, please remember the role debate had in creating that. Feel free to give back to worthy debate programs as you find them and become involved. I was able to give Greg one of our LDU hooded, zip-up, pocketed sweatshirts, with the logo on the back reading, "103 years of speaking truth to power -- Vermont Debate." He will look good in it.
We said goodbye to Greg, Joanne, and family and trooped back into our hotel rooms. The preparation continued, and I took this opportunity to get some needed sleep. I knew it would be a long trip and that I needed to pace myself. The other coaches and students worked around me, but I slept with a smile.
The William Jewell tournament had not been a good one for us. Our students are intelligent and hard working, but their youth and lack of experience had made our record less than excellent. Nevertheless, the squad showed good spirits and great determination to keep working and keep improving. Already novice debaters were talking about how well they would do when they returned to New England and debated again in the novice division. Oh, and we had won the novice final round 3-0.
On to the next challenge.
JANUARY 6, 2003 UMKC TOURNAMENT DAY 1
One of the most interesting features of debate is repetition. If it doesn't work, you regroup, replan, and try it again. Thus it was with the second tournament of the Kansas City Swing.
The whole group was on time, and that was good because we had to leave earlier. This next tournament was more distant from our hotel and we would have to deal with rush hour traffic on our way. We had plotted the best route to avoid traffic and off we went. The route seemed to work, and we arrived in plenty of time. Of course, the doughnuts and coffee were available.
We have been attending tournaments at the University of Missouri at Kansas City for quite some time. It has been held at different times of year, but we love to attend. The competition is strong, the hospitality is excellent, and we have developed a good relationship over time with those involved in this very successful program.
| Three Coaches: J. W. Patterson and Roger Solt of Kentucky; David Hingstman of Iowa | Kayce Massey & Lindsey Melander of Vermont |
My role was a bit different at this tournament. I would be “managing” the squad instead of tabulating the tournament. I put this managing in quotation marks because we have a fantastic group of people who hardly need me to guide them. I try to remain alert, do some scouting, and watch for special ways in which I can help. I had finally finished my huge research assignment on renewable energy (for the cases about the Kyoto protocols) and knew I would be explaining how to use it to various students. I did not have to wait long as the round one pairings came out and I got to work.
The first two rounds flew by quickly. I tried to catch up a bit on my journal. The feedback from the debates showed that we were performing better but that we were still having some problems 'closing the deal' in some very tight debates. Our group remained positive.
Lunch involved huge tubs of Chinese food being delivered. It was succulent and tasty, but perhaps a little too much so, as huge amounts vanished down the gullets of hungry debaters. Some of my debaters, who had finished their debates later than others, found that there was nothing left for them. We sent the ever-dependable Lana out to get them some food, and it was delivered during the next round. The debaters really appreciated that, but we, of course, have to take care of each other in matters like this.
The day ended with fairly disappointing results, but even then spirits seemed high. The youngest debaters were very firm in their conviction that they were debating much better then they had at just the previous tournament. That was the thing that cheered me up. Spot listening to them confirmed that it was so.
By the time we got back to the hotel after four grueling rounds of American policy debate the choice of restaurants was once again limited, so once again it was dinner at Applebee's
JANUARY 7, 2003 UMKC TOURNAMENT DAY 2
This day would involve rounds five through eight of the tournament. While William Jewell had seven rounds, this tournament featured eight. As Bib Marley would say, "This race is not for the swift, but the fittest of the fit shall survive." I think we had that in mind.
| Carlos Varela & Colin Kern of Vermont | Eric Mates & Shane Egizi of Vermont |
The morning rounds involved better results. The teams started to win AND they reported that their performances continued to improve. Our argument strategies seemed to function more effectively. By the time lunch rolled around the crew was very positive.
Today's lunch consisted of sandwiches and salads. Tickets were distributed that could be redeemed at a large sandwich truck parked right outside. There were a number of prepared meals and each person could choose. Remembering the lack of food from the day before, intrepid tournament host Monte Stevens of UMKC had a back up supply of sandwiches from a company managed by one of his former debaters. Everyone got fed and it was quite good.
| My finished research asssignment on renewable energy | Tubs of evidence that USA policy debaters carry |
Rounds seven and eight were very successful for our teams. Confident in their abilities and strategies, they began to “finish” stronger, and they had a 7-1 record in the last two rounds. Specifically impressive was the showing of Jillian Marty and Brian Cole, who defeated two very good teams using very innovative and different strategies. In round seven they used our “music” strategy in which segments of specifically selected songs, with lyrics directly relevant to our arguments, are used alongside other forms of proof to provide a multimedia presentation. The judge was extremely impressed and was moved to write a poem that he read to the debaters after the debate. Jillian scored a perfect 30. In round eight they decided not to offer an affirmative “plan,” an unusual strategy in American policy debate. The reaction of the judge to such an unusual strategy would be crucial. Again, they were debating quite a good team. During the round I asked Jeff Jarman if the judge (his assistant coach) would vote for such a strategy, and he assured me he would not. We made a small wager on it. I won.
| Aerial view of a USA policy debate | Vermont coaches at work |
Carlos and Colin once again were the top novice eligible team in the JV division, and so they we selected to appear in the novice final round the next day.
After a very difficult travel experience and considerable frustration early in the tournaments, the debaters had remained positive and determined. Now that attitude had paid off with a strong showing at the end of the second tournament. Everyone was positive and jolly on the way back to the hotel. Of course, it was late again and we had to eat at Applebee’s. Vegetarians came with us only to discover that there were no vegetarian items on the menu. We did manage to put together something they could eat, and a jolly meal ensued.
For most people the experience was coming to an end, but Brian Cole and I knew we would be leaving the next morning to fly to NYC and then on to Europe for another tournament. Carlos and Colin seemed ready for their final round, so it was time for some sleep. The weather for the return drive to Vermont seemed promising, and the weather in NYC seemed calm, so we were happy for that.
I spent considerable time packing, separating out the clothing and items I would be taking to Europe (my trip would last two more weeks) and packing a parcel for those driving to take back to Vermont.
I spent some time saying good-bye to Jackie Massey, our former coach and my forever colleague. We talked of future plans to be together. I went to sleep knowing I faced a huge travel challenge ahead of me.
I was correct.