Lone Wolves: A Guide from a Tournament Director

The national circuit is becoming increasingly unfriendly to “lone wolves.” In part because of the misbehavior of some independent travelers, tournaments that have in the past been reasonably friendly for the lone wolf have become less so. And tournaments that have never been lone wolf-friendly have taken steps to more or less prohibit independent attendance.

Concerns about independents are not unwarranted. Whether you agree with them or not, it behooves the lone wolf to take the steps necessary to engage the national circuit as amicably as possible, while not making things worse for yourself and future students.

This article provides some suggestions from the perspective of a tournament director who supports lone wolf debate in principle.

Don’t Lie

One thing that will make tournament directors really angry is lying about your situation to get around entry requirements. And lying doesn’t just create problems for you — it creates problems for other kids in the future. One of the driving reasons behind the recent acceleration of anti-lone wolf policies is students in recent years who have lied to tournament directors — lied about what school they attend, lied about what city they live in, lied about having permission from their school to travel, lied about their relationship with their judge and chaperone. Experience with students who lie makes tournament directors feel ill-treated, and they come to associate these bad feelings with independently entered students in general. Always be up front with tournaments and tournament directors; if that means that you can’t attend a certain tournament because you don’t meet its guidelines for independent entry, then so be it. There are plenty of tournaments — pick another.

Bring a Judge

I understand that for independent entries, bringing a judge can be difficult. You don’t have a team subsidizing the costs of travel, so buying a plane ticket for yourself and your judge gets expensive.

National circuit travel, particularly outside of your region, is expensive. This is one of the reasons that working to grow a team may be a better approach than traveling independently (see below.) But in any case, you should not be traveling without a chaperone (see “Have a Chaperone” below). Do your best to arrange it so that your chaperone is also someone who can judge (see “bring a knowledgeable judge” below). Providing a judge to the tournament is part of the debate social contract. If teams didn’t provide quality judges, tournaments couldn’t happen. Traveling independently doesn’t absolve you of the obligation to participate equitably. One of the hardest parts of being hospitable to lone wolves is dealing with large numbers of students who enter without judges. Good tournaments hire a slate of judges to deepen the pool. Having to additionally hire large numbers of judges to cover lone wolves makes this much more difficult.

I get that for some providing a judge will just be impossible. If you have to hire, it’s not the end of the world. But you should have a sense that by doing so you are making life a little harder for the tournament. Strive to avoid this when possible.

Don’t Drop Judge Hires. Seriously. Don’t.

If you can’t bring a judge, and you must hire from the tournament, do not request to drop the hire at the last minute. You should never ask to hire a judge until you’ve made a concrete decision to attend the tournament. When you ask to hire, the director finds someone to cover your entry, and they contract with that person to attend the tournament and receive payment. They probably book them a hotel room. When you decide not to attend at the last minute and ask to drop your hired judge request, you stick the tournament with that cost, because they cannot simply “fire” the judge. You also waste directors’ time. This makes you seem like a bad planner, and it makes tournament directors feel like lone wolves are more trouble than they are worth. Plan conscientiously; make an effort to be competent in your planning. Do not stick tournament directors with judge costs.

Bring a Reliable Judge

If you do bring a judge to the tournament – Bravo! Make sure, however, that your judge is reliable. Many quality judges in our community are not reliable. They don’t know how to set alarms. They stay up really late and can’t wake up in the morning. They decide to take off randomly to smoke cigarettes, take long lunches, or skip elims because they have to be in class. All of these behaviors make tournaments much more difficult to run — and make directors much less tolerant of lone wolves. (Although, to be fair, it is not only lone wolves who bring these ne’er-do-wells to tournaments.)

When you are hiring an independent coach, consider the possibility that there is a reason that coach doesn’t work for an established program. Even if the person was a brilliant debater or is a brilliant coach, if they can’t fulfill the basic expectations of a judge at a national circuit tournament, then you are doing yourself a disservice by listing them as your judge.

Bring a Knowledgeable Judge

If you can’t find a judge to chaperone you, and you must bring your parent, please do not try to enter your parent in the judge pool unless they are experienced in debate. And, “experienced in debate” does not mean “you gave them lessons on debate.” Imagine your own strike sheet: if your parent is someone you would strike, then for heaven’s sake, don’t enter them in the pool.

Many tournaments have rules against parents filling judge obligations if they are not competent to judge circuit debates, but those rules are hard to enforce, mainly because, as adults, it is awkward for us to tell other adults that we don’t consider them competent to complete a task. If your parent is the only chaperone you can get, then ask to hire a judge rather than putting a judge in the pool who is only going to suck up strikes.

Plan to Stay to the End of the Tournament

If you want to be in the tournament, be in the tournament. When you (or your judge) plans in advance to leave the tournament early, you create massive headaches. If you leave, you spoil the bracket or hand out an unearned win. If your judge decides to leave before their obligation is up — to attend classes, for instance — they make it more difficult to panel elims. Electing to leave before you are done with the tournament creates a massive headache for the director, disadvantages other students, and makes it less likely that directors will be tolerant of future lone wolves. Before you plan to attend an event, make sure that you and your judge can stay for the whole event. If you can’t, pick a different event.

Have a Chaperone

You are a teenager. You should not be traveling the country on your own. You may think you are competent to take care of yourself while abroad, but please believe me, you are not. Things will come up that you won’t know how to deal with. When that happens, you will impose on someone else to solve those problems for you. You may well find someone willing to help out — our community is full of helpful people — but that doesn’t mean that it’s OK to wander the nation on your own, depending on the kindness of strangers.

Always, always have a chaperone. If you can’t afford to fly someone out, either stay home or hire someone local to the tournament. If you have very good relationships with other coaches from your area, you might ask them to serve as your chaperone — but make sure this is acceptable to your school before you do it. Do not ask the tournament director to provide you with a chaperone — managing a tournament is unspeakably difficult, and directors do not have the time or energy to find someone to babysit you. They will almost certainly say no, and your asking signals to them that you are not competent. Whatever you do, you absolutely, positively, no exceptions should not be traveling the country without a chaperone.

A couple of notes on this:

1) Many tournaments will no longer accept chaperones who are not employees of your school. If that is the case, follow the rule. Either bring a school employee or don’t go.

2) If you do get help from someone filling in as a chaperone, be nice to them. Bring them a gift. Be responsible and competent and don’t create problems for them. Say “thank you.”

Pay Your Bills

Tournament directors may waive fees where possible, but this isn’t always an option. If you incur a fee, pay it. If you forget to drop before the drop deadline, don’t try to get out of paying your fees. Experienced coaches understand that trying to avoid fees is discourteous and they generally don’t do it. Debate tournaments are fundraisers; the money earned finances debate for other students, many of whom are also not well-off. When you try to get out of paying your fees, you are detracting from their ability to compete.

To be clear: I am not saying you should not request a fee reduction or waiver. Some schools (including mine) budget for waivers. In our case, we focus our waivers on UDL schools, but we try to be flexible. What I’m saying is that if you do incur a fee, you should pay it, no matter what.

Understand That Wanting Expensive Things Is Not the Same As Being Poor

Ideally all students should have access to debate. Millions of American high school students live below the poverty level and attend public schools that struggle to provide basic educational necessities. When a student in that situation asks for fee waivers or other help attending my tournament, I do everything I can to help.

However, this is not the situation faced by all lone wolves. Some come from families that are quite well-off. Even for wealthy families, an entire debate season worth of travel can seem quite expensive — asking your parents to send you independently to a dozen or more tournaments is kind of like asking for a Ferrari for Christmas. (OK, a used Ferrari.)

But there is a huge difference, both ethically and practically, between a well-off student who wants something expensive (like a debate season) and a low-income student who truly cannot afford debate travel.

When you are asking for consideration from tournaments, keep this distinction in mind. Tournaments have limited resources. If you are well off, but your parents are hesitant about the high costs of debate travel, please do not plead poverty to tournament directors in an effort to make your already comfortable life more comfortable. Tournament directors are understandably hesitant about asking nosy questions regarding your financial situation when you apply to them for aid. Be self-selecting. If your family is well-off, but cannot afford to send you to every tournament you’d like to attend, then either accept travel limits or get a job to pay for additional opportunities. Fee waivers and other financial assistance should be reserved for students with real economic need.

Understand That Hating Your Team Is Not The Same As Being A Lone Wolf
A lone wolf is a debater who doesn’t have the benefit of a program. A person who does go to a school with a debate program is not a lone wolf, even if you don’t like your program. 

Maybe your coach doesn’t run practice the way you like. Maybe they don’t go to the tournaments you want to attend. Maybe they don’t value your awesome debate skill as much as they should.

Well, tough. If you want things to change in your program, advocate for change. But don’t jump ship and try to travel against your coach’s wishes. Tournament directors are the colleagues of your coach. They will respect your coach and your coach’s decision, even if they don’t agree. And if you try to sneak around your coach, they will be mad at you.

Park Your Sense of Entitlement At the Door

You deserve the chance to debate. That does not mean, however, that every adult in the country is responsible for ensuring that that you receive that chance. The responsibility for providing you with debate opportunities falls on (in order): your school, your parents, and yourself. End of list.

You are fortunate that, because of the nature of debate, there are other adults — adults who are not responsible for you — who are willing to help out. We have folks who put together summer camps that provide low-cost instruction. We have folks who build entire organizations around providing coaching, judging and entry fees for students in need. We have tournament directors who are kind enough to waive fees or provide housing. All of these things are wonderful.

But as you take advantage of these great opportunities, bear in mind that these things are not owed to you. Most lone wolves are very good about this, but there is a minority who make lone wolves look just terrible. I was once contacted by a lone wolf who asked me to pay for his plane ticket to attend my tournament, and then, when I politely refused, sent an angry email telling me that I am a terrible educator because I was not committed to his success.

If you subscribe to the notion that everyone in the world is obligated to do everything in their power to ensure your happiness, please understand that you have a problem.

BUILD A PROGRAM.

Every high school program began at some point — every single one went from “not existing” to “existing.” If you find yourself in a position where the onus is on you to build the program — well, that can be tough. But it is also very rewarding. I became a debate coach in 1996 because a group of freshmen from Highland Park High School in St. Paul, MN decided that they wanted to have a debate team. I was a former debater and I was student teaching in their school. They asked around and then approached me to be their coach. And, voila, a debate team was born (one, by the way, that is still very competitive.)

Those kids faced some challenges that today’s HP debaters don’t face — they had to start from scratch, they had to track down someone willing to do the coaching and planning. But they also enjoyed the opportunity to build something new and lasting — and since then, hundreds of debaters have benefitted from what they built. If it weren’t for those first students, none of that would have been possible. Going through life with the knowledge that your efforts built something of such great and lasting value surely outweighs the short-term challenges associated with the building itself.

Building a program also has more direct, tangible benefits. Have you noticed that you don’t have any school support, and that you have to pay for everything yourself? Establishing a program and bringing in other students, parents, and teachers establishes a support network of people who have both the interest in raising, and the ability to raise, funds to support debate. And those funds needn’t necessarily come from the school. In its early years, the Highland Park debate team received little district support — so we fundraised like mad. During the summer we held car washes almost every weekend. We worked in a cookie booth at the Minnesota State Fair. We once made $2,000 for being extras in a movie. None of these things was easy, but with a large group of students and parents shouldering the work, it was doable. Imagine how much easier it would be to manage national debate travel if you had a home-grown support network!

Also, be aware that one of the main reasons that debate coaches and tournament directors throw up obstacles to lone wolves is that they want to see more programs developed. When a wolf decides to go it alone rather than build a program, they close off the possibility of many more students benefitting from debate. The adults who question lone wolf travel are not saying that they don’t care about you or other independent students; rather, they are saying that every school deserves to have an established debate program, and that it is the responsibility of each school to accomplish this. After all, every debate program started at some point — those schools with established programs did the heavy lift. Every school should do the same.

Successful lone wolf debaters avoid those challenges, and to some extent, shift the burdens of supporting their debate careers from their own home schools onto the tournament directors, housing families, chaperones & etc. who make up the “lone wolf support network.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing — everyone should have the chance to debate. But it is a reason that the ideal scenario is one where lone wolves develop programs that will then support them, rather than simply getting skilled at resourcing out their individual debate needs. And if no one else is willing to get the ball rolling, it might just be your responsibility.

 

 

  • alex smith

    True story: just over ten years ago, I showed up at Apple Valley without a chaperone or a place to sleep my senior year of high school and Dave – whom I had met exactly once before – wouldn’t let me crash on his floor. It was then that I knew that Dave really hated debaters from schools without institutional support.

    (JK, JK, JK. I think this is generally a good list and think that people who find it dismissive probably need to take a deep breath and gain some perspective. I get that not having institutional support is hard – I dealt with this in both high school and college – but running tournaments is a nightmare even with people who aren’t lying to you and exposing you to liability and the prospect of reprisal from administrators.)

    • mcgin029

      True story: Alex remembers the Apple Valley incident very well, and (as I have told him multiple times since then…) I very much regret turning him away from my door. If I had it to do over again.

      In my defense, I was already housing eight other people including Eric Palmer, Ernie Rose, and Steve Schappaugh.

      Still and all, though, if Alex had actually been Zeus in disguise, I would have been in big trouble. As Arlo Guthrie tells us:

      “Maybe your ticket on the last train to glory is the stranger who is sleeping on your floor.”

  • Brennan Sterling Caruthers

    Do the opposite of most of the things recommended in this article and you’ll do well.

    • mcgin029

      Brennan –

      I understand your desire to seem hip and with it, but your statement hovers between idiotic and irresponsible. I’m sure you’ll get tons of “likes” but if the current crop of lone wolves follows your advice and:

      – Lies
      – Refuses to bring a judge
      – Drops judge hires at the last minute
      – Brings unreliable judges
      – Brings judges who don’t understand debate
      – Plans to ditch out of the tournament early
      – Travels without a chaperone
      – Refuses to pay the fees they incur
      – Asks for fee waivers despite family wealth
      – Travels without the knowledge or approval of their coach
      – Behaves in an entitled manner (ahem)
      – Refuses (on principle?) to work toward building a program…

      … they will not “do well.”

      I always liked and respected you as a debater, but this is disappointing. You have a unique perspective on these issues, but judging from your comment — however pithy and “with it” — you have not learned the lessons of those experiences.

      Again, these comments come from the perspective of someone who runs a tournament that makes an extra effort to be welcoming to lone wolves. It reflects the content of innumerable discussions with other tournament directors, some of whom try to help lone wolves and some of whom have decided to prohibit their participati0on in their home tournaments. The intention of this advice is to make life easier for lone wolves.

      I get that some of this is hard to hear for people who think that the behaviors described are acceptable or even laudable, but I promise you that this material is important. Many tournament directors are increasingly frustrated. Opportunities are being closed off. I wrote the article with the understanding that it would be controversial and that I would be trolled, but for you to hop on here and advise current students as you have is really surprising. I hope you’re kidding; I hope the independently traveling students who read your comment understand that you’re kidding.

      • Brennan Sterling Caruthers

        Dave

        No, I’m not kidding. No, I’m not trying to be hip. No, I do not advocate a lot of the things you list. No, I do not appreciate the condescending tone and ad hominem insults littered within your post.

        Yes, I appreciate your dedication to embrace lone wolves at your tournament. Yes, I think we ought to talk.

  • AJDOLBERG

    this article is tight

  • Nathan Cha

    Dave,

    As a small school debater that now coaches for a large program as well as other small school debaters, I find this to be distasteful for both the condescending manner in which it was written as well as some of the content, particularly in the latter half of the
    article. While I agree with a lot of what you have suggested as well as what I believe were your true intentions for this article, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t find it inappropriate.

    While I may not be what you consider to be a “lone wolf,” I think that my experiences were very similar to that of other lone wolves. I had no support from my school for circuit tournaments. I had to figure out all the logistics in terms of how to get to
    tournaments, how to pay fees, email tournament directors to waive fees, find
    judges, and stay up late to ensure that I was guaranteed housing when I signed
    up for tournaments that offered them. I applied for scholarships at camps and hitched rides with other teams to save money. That is pretty standard for any lone wolf. Now that I coach Bronx Science, I can see that students from big programs have none, if any, of these concerns. They just prep and then go debate. For a lone wolf you cannot start worrying about how well you will do at a tournament until you know IF you can
    get to the tournament at all. Despite what bad experiences you may have had with certain individuals, I am positive that the large majority of lone wolves do not believe that they are entitled to special privileges as you seem to suggest nor do they lie to get the chance to compete. I believe that the large majority of the community can agree on that issue. Lone wolves typically only ask tournament directors to fulfill certain
    requests because otherwise it would be impossible for us to compete at a
    tournament. There is a precedent that was set by some lone wolves in the past but that doesn’t mean new lone wolves should be held culpable for old debaters’ mistakes. A lot of what you say seems to be sweeping generalizations about all of us as people.

    I largely agree with everything you say until the section titled “Understand That Wanting Expensive Things Is Not the Same As Being Poor.” Having to explain to friends and coaches why you cannot afford to fly to a tournament or compete is never a pleasant conversation. Working up the courage to explain to a tournament director, whom you likely have never met before, and explain why you cannot attend their tournament without a fee waiver is not fun at all. Your ability to compete rides completely on another individual’s Yes or No answer. Your request that debaters “do not plead poverty to tournament directors in an effort to make your already comfortable life more comfortable” only discourages action that we wouldn’t be taking unless necessary. It is belittling and insensitive.

    Next you say that we should just build a program and while I agree with this in principle, I find it unreasonable to expect a high school student to be responsible for such a task. This is written as if it is some “be all, end all” solution to all their problems, but that’s just adding another task to a high school kid who is trying to juggle a lot as it is. I don’t deny that building programs is the best long-term solution. However, I
    think it is pretty obvious that you are asking a student to sacrifice a lot. You cannot feasibly “work a job” to pay for tournaments, prep for tournaments, go to school, work out logistics for tournaments, and simultaneously build a solid debate program as a high school junior without losing competitive success or the chance to compete at
    all. And this does not account for if you do other activities in addition to debate. Not everyone wants to build a program; some kids just want to debate.

    All I ask is that anyone who is reading this considers that you cannot make generalizations about who lone wolves are or what they should all be doing with their debate careers. Be more sensitive to what these kids have to deal with.

    • mcgin029

      Nathan,

      I’m pleased that you liked the first 2/3 of the article.

      I disagree with your statement that the tone of the article is condescending. As a tournament director — one who makes every effort to produce a tournament that is hospitable to lone wolf debaters — I have a viewpoint that is different from yours, and different from lone wolf students. I speak from that viewpoint. If you don’t like what I have to say, or 1/3 of what I have to say, I appreciate and understand that. But don’t try to silence me by asserting that what I say is “inappropriate.”

      Look, the national circuit situation is what it is. More tournaments are closing off opportunities for lone wolves. I can’t prevent that and neither can you, but lone wolves themselves, by adapting to the reasonable expectations of tournaments, can at least forestall it. If you really care about the lone wolf debater, rather than tearing this down, encourage them to take the article to heart. I promise you, whether you find its tone pleasing or not, the material covered here is an honest appraisal of the circumstances that face lone wolves today. These opportunities will go away — in many cases, particularly for some of the octos bids, they are already gone. Insisting on polite prose won’t make it any better.

      Regarding the issue of wealth and access: I can’t believe you really disagree with this point. I waive a lot of fees for my tournament. I can’t waive all of them, so I prefer giving waivers to UDL schools or students who face real economic hardship. There are many, many students across the country whose families could never even consider sending them to a single national circuit tournament outside of their locality, state, or region; finite fee waivers should be allocated so as to make travel more accessible to those students. That seems eminently reasonable to me. Kids and coaches who face that kind of need absolutely shouldn’t feel bad about asking for waivers.

      Finally, my argument is not that every lone wolf debater must build a program. Since the vast majority of the article is dedicated to advising lone wolves on how to debate successfully as an independent, I think it’s implicit that I accept independent entry is an unavoidable necessity for many students. My argument is only that starting a program (A) is independently valuable and (B) can go a long way toward resolving many of the problems lone wolves face. I’m not tearing down anyone who doesn’t or can’t do it, I’m simply auguring in favor of it, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

  • Nathan Cha

    Dave,

    As a small school debater that now coaches for a large program as well as other small school debaters, I find this to be distasteful for both the condescending manner in which it was written as well as some of the content, particularly in the latter half of the
    article. While I agree with a lot of what you have suggested as well as what I believe were your true intentions for this article, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t find it inappropriate.

    While I may not be what you consider to be a “lone wolf,” I think that my experiences were very similar to that of other lone wolves. I had no support from my school for circuit tournaments. I had to figure out all the logistics in terms of how to get to
    tournaments, how to pay fees, email tournament directors to waive fees, find
    judges, and stay up late to ensure that I was guaranteed housing when I signed
    up for tournaments that offered them. I applied for scholarships at camps and hitched rides with other teams to save money. That is pretty standard for any lone wolf. Now that I coach Bronx Science, I can see that students from big programs have none, if any, of these concerns. They just prep and then go debate. For a lone wolf you cannot start worrying about how well you will do at a tournament until you know IF you can get to the tournament at all. Despite what bad experiences you may have had with certain individuals, I am positive that the large majority of lone wolves do not believe that they are entitled to special privileges as you seem to suggest nor do they lie to get the chance to compete. I believe that the large majority of the community can agree on that issue. Lone wolves typically only ask tournament directors to fulfill certain
    requests because otherwise it would be impossible for us to compete at a
    tournament. There is a precedent that was set by some lone wolves in the past but that doesn’t mean new lone wolves should be held culpable for old debaters’ mistakes. A lot of what you say seems to be sweeping generalizations about all of us as people.

    I largely agree with everything you say until the section titled “Understand That Wanting Expensive Things Is Not the Same As Being Poor.” Having to explain to friends and coaches why you cannot afford to fly to a tournament or compete is never a pleasant conversation. Working up the courage to explain to a tournament director, whom you likely have never met before, and explain why you cannot attend their
    tournament without a fee waiver is not fun at all. Your ability to compete rides completely on another individual’s Yes or No answer. Your request that debaters “do not plead poverty to tournament directors in an effort to make your already comfortable life more comfortable” only discourages action that we wouldn’t be taking unless necessary. It is belittling and insensitive.

    Next you say that we should just build a program and while I agree with this in principle, I find it unreasonable to expect a high school student to be responsible for such a task. This is written as if it is some “be all, end all” solution to all their problems, but that’s just adding another task to a high school kid who is trying to juggle a lot as it is. I don’t deny that building programs is the best long-term solution. However, I think it is pretty obvious that you are asking a student to sacrifice a lot. You cannot feasibly “work a job” to pay for tournaments, prep for tournaments, go to school, work out logistics for tournaments, and simultaneously build a solid debate program as a high school junior without losing competitive success or the chance to compete at all. Not everyone wants to build a program; some kids just want to debate.

    All I ask is that anyone who is reading this considers that you cannot make generalizations about who lone wolves are or what they should all be doing with their debate careers. Be more sensitive to what these kids have to deal with.

  • Guest

    Dave,

    As a small school debater that now coaches for a large program as well as other small school debaters, I find this to be distasteful for both the condescending manner in which it was written as well as some of the content, particularly in the latter half of the
    article. While I agree with a lot of what you have suggested as well as what I believe were your true intentions for this article, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t find it inappropriate.

    While I may not be what you consider to be a “lone wolf,” I think that my experiences were very similar to that of other lone wolves. I had no support from my school for circuit tournaments. I had to figure out all the logistics in terms of how to get to
    tournaments, how to pay fees, email tournament directors to waive fees, find
    judges, and stay up late to ensure that I was guaranteed housing when I signed
    up for tournaments that offered them. I applied for scholarships at camps and hitched rides with other teams to save money. That is pretty standard for any lone wolf. Now that I coach Bronx Science, I can see that students from big programs have none, if any, of these concerns. They just prep and then go debate. For a lone wolf you cannot start worrying about how well you will do at a tournament until you know IF you can
    get to the tournament at all. Despite what bad experiences you may have had with certain individuals, I am positive that the large majority of lone wolves do not believe that they are entitled to special privileges as you seem to suggest nor do they lie to get the chance to compete. I believe that the large majority of the community can agree on that issue. Lone wolves typically only ask tournament directors to fulfill certain
    requests because otherwise it would be impossible for us to compete at a
    tournament. There is a precedent that was set by some lone wolves in the past but that doesn’t mean new lone wolves should be held culpable for old debaters’ mistakes. A lot of what you say seems to be sweeping generalizations about all of us as people.

    I largely agree with everything you say until the section titled “Understand That Wanting Expensive Things Is Not the Same As Being Poor.” Having to explain to friends and coaches why you cannot afford to fly to a tournament or compete is never a pleasant conversation. Working up the courage to explain to a tournament director, whom you likely have never met before, and explain why you cannot attend their tournament without a fee waiver is not fun at all. Your ability to compete rides completely on another individual’s Yes or No answer. Your request that debaters “do not plead poverty to tournament directors in an effort to make your already comfortable life more comfortable” only discourages action that we wouldn’t be taking unless necessary. It is belittling and insensitive.

    Next you say that we should just build a program and while I agree with this in principle, I find it unreasonable to expect a high school student to be responsible for such a task. This is written as if it is some “be all, end all” solution to all their problems, but that’s just adding another task to a high school kid who is trying to juggle a lot as it is. I don’t deny that building programs is the best long-term solution. However, I
    think it is pretty obvious that you are asking a student to sacrifice a lot. You cannot feasibly “work a job” to pay for tournaments, prep for tournaments, go to school, work out logistics for tournaments, and simultaneously build a solid debate program as a high school junior without losing competitive success or the chance to compete at
    all. And this does not account for if you do other activities in addition to debate. Not everyone wants to build a program; some kids just want to debate.

    All I ask is that anyone who is reading this considers that you cannot make generalizations about who lone wolves are or what they should all be doing with their debate careers. Be more sensitive to what these kids have to deal with.

  • Kamil

    I take a few issues with this article Dave. What the fuck is this supposed to mean: “When you are hiring an independent coach, consider the possibility that there is a reason that coach doesn’t work for an established program.”
    This is just a despicable comment. I worked as an independent coach and I can tell you up front that it made me more responsible and not less. There is a direct financial incentive because you don’t have a contract and will just get fired if the parents disapprove. I developed a great relationship with Naveen’s parents and took my role as an educator very seriously. I can list a number of coaches from established programs that I wouldn’t let near my students however… Just because a coach has connections with a program doesn’t mean they’re more responsible (in my experience it makes them less so).

    The next issue is how you mentioned building a program or how you should just persuade your program. That’s bullshit and you should know it. I know from my experience with Torrey Pines. That program was entirely hostile to the concept of national debate. The students tried incredibly hard to get the program to do circuit debate and one of my student’s senior year in debate was destroyed by the program. That hurt me a great deal because I didn’t just see potential, but saw how much he wanted to compete and how the administration simply didn’t want to work with him or his parents or the parents of other debaters. Usually the “adult” in the program is simply dismissive of a student’s efforts to compete and learn.They see spreading as hostile and refuse to engage with it at all. It can be far more psychologically damaging and draining on students and parents alike to try to get a program to change.

    If you really want to help lone wolf debaters, set up some sort of system for them to register for tournaments. Make sure they provide accurate contact information for someone who can be held accountable for that student. Then it’s easy enough to shoot an email to the student’s parents and provide them with rules and consequences. The first step is to get parents involved with the lone wolves. If the parents are involved AND understand how the process works (too often they do not) then you will eliminate a great deal of the problems students face. But this article does the opposite of what you intend. You’re only alienating those students and making them seem like the problem. They are not. They’re just kids who want to learn and compete. That is something we should be encouraging and finding ways to make work rather than discouraging.

    • mcgin029

      First, the line doesn’t say “all coaches/judges who work for lone wolves are irresponsible.” The advice — and it is good advice — is that lone wolves should take care to make sure they hire responsible people. I don’t disagree that there are plenty of irresponsible judges working for teams, but the kids on those teams are shielded from the negative consequences of bringing those folks because they belong to a program. There is no risk that they, or other similarly situated students, will be barred from participation in tournaments because of instances of judge irresponsibility. It is realistically the case for lone wolves; it has gotten harder to enter independently and it is likely to get harder still.

      Second, I don’t disagree that there may be circumstances where building a program (or convincing your program to expand its reach) might be impossible. My point is not that lone wolves should build a program or quit debating, it is just that developing a program (A) is independently rewarding and (B) may make traveling for debate easier. Clearly in some cases its not possible but I worry that some lone wolves don’t even consider it, although I’m sure that many do.

      Look, this article is not an anti-lone-wolf article. The debate tournament scene today is increasingly anti-lone-wolf. Kids who plan to take this route to competitive success need some real talk; your outrage at my insensitivity will not decrease the likelihood that yet another octos bid will bar independent entries.

      My tournament is among the friendliest to lone wolves in the nation. We provide hospitality and assistance to independent entries that goes well beyond what most tournaments provide; we bend over backwards to make debate accessible to kids. This is very important to me.

      But the opportunities for many students are being spoiled by some who don’t seem to understand a basic set of etiquette rules. Every item in this article is a reflection of something that has been done within the past few years by some lone wolf debaters; as a direct result of some of those behaviors, for example, it is now impossible to enter either Greenhill or St. Mark’s without bringing a school employee, and there is growing sentiment that that should be a basic requirement of all tournaments.

      I apologize, sincerely, if anything I’ve written offends you. But if you know students who want to debate independently, you should encourage them to read this advice and take it to heart. If you don’t think that lone wolves are potentially on the path to extinction in debate, then you aren’t paying attention.

  • Fritz Pielstick

    Bill Maher has gone on rants about Islam that were less condescending and dismissive than this article.