AT HOME IN HEATH: COMMUNITY JUDGING FOR NCFCA TOURNAMENTS
So, if a couple of hours could make a difference in a kid’s life, would you make time for it? Hypothetically we’d all say yes, but I’ve discovered a way to do just that. I’d love for you to have the opportunity to join me and all it will cost you is a little time and a little gas. Let me tell you about my day of judging and then you will probably want to contact firstname.lastname@example.org and volunteer for the speech tournament in March.
A friend of mine knew I lived somewhere over here on the east side of the Metroplex, so she told me about a speech tournament in Wylie. She home-schools her kids and they would be participating. She asked if I would be a judge. Before you start trying to disqualify yourself for one reason or another, let me assure you that if you can read, write and hear, you’re qualified to be a community judge.
My friend didn’t know I had participated in speech tournaments during my high school career. She just knew they needed judges. However, as soon as I read her email, I remembered my first speech tournament. I was lucky enough to catch a ride to Houston in Jimmy Jordon’s red convertible. To this day, just a few notes of Marvin Gaye singing “What’s Going On” will transport me back to that beautiful October day.
On the strength of that memory, I agreed to sign up for the Wylie tournament. I didn’t know NCFCA from MSNBC, but I remembered the excitement of dressing up in my very best clothes and giving a humorous speech-to-entertain titled, “My Life as a Compulsive Big Mouth.” It was not (as I had hoped) the beginning of my career as a stand-up comedian, but since a good portion of my professional career was spent speaking in public, in a wide variety of situations, I do believe the opportunity to participate in speech tournaments contributed to my life’s journey.
Since so much in our world has changed since that exhilarating ride to Houston, I couldn’t help but wonder what had changed in high school speech tournaments, but I knew there was little reason to speculate, because the tournament was only a week away. I’d find out soon enough. I carved out enough space to judge three events and went on with my business.
On the day of the tournament I stood in my closet wondering what to wear. Would there be young men in suits or a kaleidoscope of blue denim? I hedged my bets and wore trousers and a blazer. That way I’d fit in either way. As I drove to the tournament I noticed the weather on that February day was much as it had been on that October day of the red convertible.
The first thing I noticed were young men in suits looking very serious as they scurried between buildings. The breeze snatched at their ties and played havoc with the dresses and tresses of their female companions. I grinned widely. Some things do stay the same. Kids still wore their best clothes to the tournaments and they were nervous as they trekked between events.
I found a parking space and made my way into the building. I can’t explain to you how warm my welcome was. The lady sitting at the Judge Registration Table made me feel as if I were some sort of hero. Feeling even better about my decision to judge, I took my badge and headed towards the judges lounge, passing the judge’s snack table along the way. I was delighted to be a part of the mild chaos going on around me.
After a brief training session on judging, my first event to judge was a round of interpretive speeches classified as Biblical Presentation. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it sounded interesting. Was it ever! Biblical Presentation is a dramatic interpretation of portions of Scripture. The students presented lengthy passages from the Bible with intros, comments and summaries they had written. All the passages included dialog and the students would portray each of the characters with only a small piece of cloth as a prop.
Each student memorized about eight minutes of dialog and accompanying gestures. We had Queen Esther; the Prophet Balaam and his donkey; Mary and Martha; and a few others. While Esther, Mary and Martha were to be expected, I was surprised when more than one contestant selected the talking donkey and pleased the focus of their interpretations varied greatly. By the end of the round I had developed a new appreciation for the youth of America!
My next event was debate. This was a more challenging event for the judges. We had to keep a flow sheet of the arguments, judge who won the debate and judge the performance of the individual debaters outside the outcome. In my debate, one of the debaters was by far the best speaker and I actually agreed with his point of view, but the other young man blew him away when it came to formulating his position and defending it, in spite of the weakness of one of his defenses. I gave the debate to the guy I disagreed with, but gave the other speaker higher points.
I thought my final round to judge would never begin. This time I had chosen Impromptu Speaking. I was exhausted from the technicalities of the debate and Impromptu Speaking seemed as if it would be easier to judge than Extemporaneous Speaking or Apologetics. The round was supposed to start around six, but through no fault of the contestants we didn’t begin until almost seven. We were short on judges (hint, hint, hint).
In extemporaneous speech, a contestant is given 30 minutes to prepare a 7 minute speech. From my memory, those speeches had some pretty heavy subject matter. Impromptu topics ranged from Make Believe to Bad Habits and only last about five minutes after two minutes of preparation. That seemed more my speed.
My brain was worn out, so I can only imagine how exhausted the kids were. They’d been performing all day, compared to my half-day of judging. Many had an event in each round and some multiple events within a round. It seemed almost cruel to have extemporaneous and impromptu speeches at such a late hour. As much as I wanted to cash it in and call it a day, if these teen-aged troopers were going to speak, I was going to judge.
While the Biblical Presentation scoring depended to a certain extent on how well the kids were able to memorize a lengthy passage, Improptu Speaking was all about thinking on your feet. The kids had up to five minutes to speak, but most barely made it past the two minute mark. One spoke for about six minutes, but that didn’t help their score. The point was to use up the time without going over.
The last contestant in the round was the most heart-breaking for me. From some conversations I had overheard, I learned this particular young man had not only performed multiple times that day, he’d also had a big hand in running the tournament. Someone had to go find him and bring him to the room.
One of the most heartwarming things about the day had been the courtesies the students extended to the judges. As they entered they would shake our hands and then move into position to speak. They’d wait quietly until we’d finished shuffling our papers and whispering among ourselves. Then they’d ask us if we were ready and politely ask for the timekeeper to start the clock. After they had performed, they would shake hands with each of us and thank us for judging. Sure it was rehearsed and formulaic, but it was invaluable skill-building and quite touching.
When the final contestant came in, he was visibly spent. He went through the handshaking routine and retreated to a corner to prepare his speech on the subject he had drawn. It was apparent that he was an accomplished, well-spoken orator, but it was also apparent he was done for the day, long before he entered the room. The merciful part of me wanted to give the round to him out of compassion, but I remembered this wasn’t just about who won or lost the round.
I put him among the top contestants, because he did do a better job than some of the others, but I didn’t give him the round. In my comments I told him I regretted not being able to proclaim him the winner, but I hoped he’d take my advice to heart – learning your limits and managing your assets is more important than winning a round in a speech tournament. This fine young man will probably manage a major corporation or run for high office someday. At least I think he will, if he doesn’t run out of steam somewhere in his twenties. I will probably not see him or hear of him again and if I do I won’t recognize him, but I have the satisfaction of knowing I shared some of my hard-won wisdom with him at a time when it might do some good.
Now It’s Your Turn
The next NCFCA speech tournament is March 9th-12th at Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church in Allen. Go to www.ncfcajudges.com to sign up. Click Texas on the map and select “Allen Qualifier.” I hope I’ll be seeing you there.