The world of high school debate and speech has moved online in the COVID era, and the Saint Thomas Aquinas program is seeking the help of parent volunteers and others to make competition a reality.
The traditional procedure for debate and forensics tournaments involves schools hosting competitions in their building, having their own competitors sit out, and providing judges for debates and speech performances, including a generous number of community judges who are provided with training in the mechanics of the competition events. Single judging shifts last for about 90 minutes each, and end with the judge filling out a ballot ranking the competitors and, in the case of debate rounds, assigning a win and a loss.
The model for the duration of the pandemic is different. Schools "host" events in the virtual sense, using online platforms to enable students to perform from their own homes or schools, in a zoom-style "room" with the judge and competitors interacting via webcam. Early results from across the nation suggest that the model is functional, and it offers an advantage in that competitors can compete from anywhere and judges can log on from their own homes. But although the technology involved is not complicated, there's a slight learning curve, and at present there's a critical shortage of judges available. Accordingly, many schools are asking competing teams to provide judges alongside their competition entry.
Aquinas will begin their competition season on the weekend of October 9-10 and will compete in debate through December, then will start the speech competition on January 30 and compete through 5A State in May.
The greatest need for judges will occur at the school's host tournaments on November 21 and January 30, but there will likely be some need for adults to work two hour shifts on virtually every weekend. As different host schools will have different expectations and most are still revising their tournament policies to suit the an online format, the specific schedule is still in flux. The team expects to know what will be needed for each tournament about a month in advance.
Coach DuBois encourages any willing volunteers to follow the team on social media via the Twitter account @STADB8 and the Facebook group "St. Thomas Aquinas (KS) Debate/Forensics". Regular updates will be posted regarding upcoming needs for volunteer judges; he emphasizes that the team will provide specific training and assistance both in advance of the event and on the competition day. Specific questions may be directed to him at [email protected]