UPenn

This year I ran the UPenn Liberty Bell Classic for the third time, and the tournament has really turned the corner.   First, it’s just a nice campus, and a nice place to be in October.  The weather was stunningly perfect, and we eat very well; we have Barb G’s amazing french-toast bagels, we eat in Center City with Tony F, and during the day on Saturday they even stick a freshman into a cab at one point with orders for hundreds of Pats and Geno’s cheesesteaks for lunch.  I can’t remember which of the cheesesteak places is the racist one, but they’re both delicious.

The tournament also, after the typical rough Saturday morning start endemic to tournaments on college campuses, proceeded without a hitch.  On time, well attended, well judged.   The one part of the tournament that did get short shrift was policy, and it was all my fault; at several points I forgot which rooms we were supposed to use at which times and sent the poor tub-luggers scurrying all over creation.  And after seeing what remained of the powermatching in the 5th round, the 6th round quickly was revealed to be hopeless, if they wanted judging or opponents.  That’s the trouble with a small division, though.  Policy is slowly extracting itself from any relationship with the rest of forensics; there aren’t many tournaments left that have both the full slate of events, and an active and healthy Policy division.   That said, this year’s Yale draw was up around the 25 team mark, which while not exactly a huge deal, is also a perfectly viable tournament, especially given that those 25 teams came from about 10 different schools from various different states.

Ali H also did stupendous work with the judge wrangling.  Apparently she convinced the UPenn Law school that judging a high school debate tournament is a perfectly good way to earn pro bono service hours required to graduate.  At one level this sounds like a shenanigan to those of us who know what kind of specie and cajoling goes into finding hired judges, but on another level, it is actually a very good way to serve the community, especially given that the profits of the tournament go directly back into the high school community in the hands of Penn for Youth Debate, the on-campus wing of Perspectives, that’s working hard to bring LD Debate into the public school system of Philadelphia.

I started calling the Penn law school The Magic Judge Tree:  you just shake it and all the judges you’d ever want fall to the ground.  At one point, I looked at my TRPC instance with Public Forum loaded into it, and saw things like “Judges needed for round 3: 14.  Judges available:  32.”  They made excellent judges; several had longstanding LD and Policy experience and judged that; the rest made very sharp and very helpful Congress, Extemp, and PFD judges.   What a complete joy to tab; we had trouble with rooms that occupied a lot of my time and made the tabbing interesting, but judges simply were not an issue.  If we’d had the rooms, we could have single-flighted the entire thing; next year, we’re working on doing exactly that.  Imagine the platonic ideal of a tournament with five single-flighted rounds of debate on Saturday; we can kick the thing off at 11:00 and still end in time for a reasonable dinner.   Sleep in, get some breakfast, and then debate!  It’s almost civilized, and especially so compared to the usual bleary eyed death march that our tournaments become.

The one area that Penn suffers is their date.  We conflicted with St Marks’ this year, which isn’t a big deal, and also the MHL’s first year event and PSATs, which was a big deal.  Penn still drew a strong field of 70 or so VLDers, 57 PFD teams, and hit 80+ in both OI and DP, but the other events were rather smaller.  The trouble is this particular clear space in the northeast calendar doesn’t always exist; there are years where Manchester is earlier and Bronx is therefore back to back with Monticello with no room left for Penn.

So we need a more permanent solution and home.  I’ve been talking to them about the idea of taking on the biggest monopoly in forensics, the biggest bleariest-eyed death march, the overgrown debacle that happens at my glorious ancient alma mater every February.

OOooooOOoooooh.  David and Goliath there, eh?

Of course, they’d lose schools and interest from some of the people who go to the tournament each year.  But I think they’d also pick up a lot of interest from the large number of schools who do not enjoy and in many cases do not go to Harvard.  But more to the point, they could compliment each other well enough.  Penn’s tournament is not aiming to make money but to provide a service, and visibility for Perspectives.  Harvard’s tournament is no place for learners and novices; it’s competition in the purest sense.  So a UPenn tournament not too far away that charged a small fraction of the price that one pays for Harvard could be very valuable and viable.  The Philly local schools that attend Harvard could send their B squads, and the rest would have a tournament to go to at all.  It’s somewhat warmer, I’m sure; I live less than three miles from Harvard’s campus and yet that tournment weekend always seems unusually bitterly cold even to me.

On the other side, the Harvard tournament is not a pleasant experience in a lot of (fixable!) ways, and this is coming from someone who both gets to sleep in his own bed that weekend, and who knows the comfy hiding spots on campus so as to avoid Cambridge Ringe and Latin.  I’m sure the Penn round-robin could attract quite a number of the LDers who have fully qualled for the TOC already and see little point to subject themselves to the roundabout random-results-generator that is Harvard’s LD judging pool.  We could have educational talks and other perks that the single-flighted schedule of loveliness might permit.

Hell, if we’re feeling really generous, we could even have someone running the ballot table who won’t fine people for not picking up their ballot on time, when said people were waiting in the line that the understaffed ballot table itself was causing to move too slowly.  This actually happened to one of my judges two years ago at Harvard.  Minh scrubbed it away, which is fine if you know Minh, but if I was turned off enough in the first place that the ballot table person didn’t recognize what she was doing was wrong.  Of course, this is the same ballot table person who told Sarah that “obviously you don’t understand what it takes to put on a tournament of this scale” in the same year Boston was hosting Nationals.

There’s customer service and awareness of the forensics community for you.

It’d be ballsy, and would probably tick a few people off, but I don’t like sacred cows much and think there’s also value in challenging them.  It’s indicative that of the 40-50 or so active MFL speech programs maybe 5-6 make the effort to even go to Harvard, despite it being a huge national draw right in our backyard.  I don’t know if the Penn students are going to bite at the idea; granted, they have more to lose than I do if this flops and fails.  But I still like the idea, and if they don’t bite, I think I’m going to try to find another venue for the Harvard Alternative.

Until then, there are other battles to be fought.