Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Addicted (...To Speech and Debate)

I have just returned from spending a week in Virginia with my oldest daughter and my 7-week-old baby boy.  We were there for my daughter to compete in the NCFCA 2014 National Championship.  What a whirlwind of activity we had!  It's hard to explain, but I have post-tournament high.  We also have a term we call "post tournament hangover" which is the state of exhaustion in which one finds oneself after a speech and debate tournament.  This time, however, I'm mostly feeling the high. 

I have to admit it.  I'm addicted to speech and debate.  The funny thing is, so are my kids.  If you had told me a few years ago that my children would be so into speech and debate, I would have laughed out loud!  Our journey to this point began several years ago.  June 2007, our oldest child had just turned 10 (which at the time seemed so old!), and we were expecting our 7th baby any day.  Our dear friends, our college pastor and his wife and family, were coming to our neck of the woods for the national championship of their speech and debate league.  They had shared with our family previously how valuable they felt speech and debate was for their kids.  We decided to go up to Belton, TX and see what this was all about.  We were able to watch our friends' children in their events, and of course we were so impressed with them.  But they weren't the only ones with whom we were impressed.  The campus was crawling with teenage boys in suits and ties and teenage girls in business attire.  Everyone looked so professional and put together.  Appearances are one thing, but then I was able to hear them speak.  I took the older children with me that day, and we listened to persuasive speeches, interpretive pieces, and speeches on current events and our responsibilities as believers in this day and age. I was so impressed with everything I saw.  I knew then that in a few years when my children were old enough, this would be a very worthy activity for our family.  Little did I know then how much time and sacrifice this would involve.

Fast forward three years.  Some friends of ours were involved in a speech and debate club that was affiliated with NCFCA, the very league we had witnessed in action at Nationals 2007.  I wasn't sure if we could make it happen that year, as we had a year-old baby (again! But what else is new?), but we went to meetings that fall.  I was completely overwhelmed and had no idea where to start.  I heard there was a steep learning curve.  Todd was skeptical, mainly because club meetings were on Friday nights.  So most of the meetings I attended were by myself with all the kids.  I wasn't able to be in on many of the meetings since I had to keep an eye on my little ones, so by the time the practice tournament came along, we were still clueless.  My girls prepared "illustrated oratory" speeches about the trip to Israel they had taken with their dad that October.  They brought bright orange posters with pictures from their trip.  Umm, the problem is that the boards are supposed to be black or white boards of a certain size, and not flimsy like poster board. Not to mention the elaborate and intricate things competitors use on their boards to enhance their speeches.  Looking back now, I can laugh at our mistakes.  But that day we realized how truly clueless we were, and so we gave up for that year.  I didn't even try to take the children to any tournaments.  The following year, we were expecting another baby in November, so I didn't attempt going to the club.  However, God is so good, and we somehow decided to sign up for a theater class at One Day Academy.  A few months into the year, the teacher told me that the girls could actually compete in NCFCA tournaments with the "duet" literary interpretation they were working on for that theater class.  We decided to take the girls to a tournament ("just one") the Spring of that academic year (2012).  I knew that we weren't anywhere near competitive, but I wanted to get us to a tournament and see what the girls thought.  I forced each of them to prepare a persuasive speech as well as the "Duo" they had been preparing for theater class (oh, they just thanked me so much for that).  We went to our first tournament in Granbury, with some friends we had met through the theater class.  As much as the girls were against going to the tournament, especially with their persuasive speeches, they had a lot of fun while we were at the tournament.  I was immediately hooked!  We signed up for one more tournament the next month in Houston.  This time, with all 9 of my children in tow, including our baby Hezekiah who was only a few months old, we threw ourselves into the tournament.  The girls competed, the younger siblings who were old enough timed speech events and debate.  I was even able to judge one speech round while someone watched my little ones.  

I was doubly hooked after that tournament.  Not only did the girls have fun, but we connected with people from the club we had attended the year before, and everyone was so welcoming to my kids.  That tournament was what we needed to commit ourselves fully the next fall.  This time, my husband was 100% on board.  We got our friends from the theater class to join us, and our kids teamed up as debate partners.  Abby, our oldest, and her friend Ethan decided to do a duo together that year, and everyone had speeches they prepared.  David, our third, debated with another friend. That was the year we learned so much.  I judged every chance I got so I could better learn what the different events involved.  The kids were thrown into the lions' den in debate, and they learned mostly through experience (trial and error--mostly error 😜).  We never missed a club meeting that year, and by the end of the year, we *all* were hooked.  Abby and Ethan actually won third place at one of the tournaments in which they competed that season in duo.  I couldn't believe it, but that summer the kids were even willing to attend debate camp!  

This year, we again were fully committed.  My fourth child was old enough to compete, and we went to 4 qualifiers in our region.  The kids did so well--all four of them qualifying to Regionals in at least one event, and Abby qualified to Nationals in both persuasive speaking and duo interpretation.  It's safe to say that we are all extremely excited about this activity.  My kids keep up with happenings at tournaments in which they are unable to compete, and national opens as well.  They talk about debate even when it's not the assignment of the moment.  In fact, all of my competitors are already planning what events they want to do next year.

We love going to tournaments.  As I keep mentioning, I am completely addicted.  I'm addicted to the atmosphere at these tournaments.  I am addicted to seeing all of these young competitors dressed up in their tournament attire.  I'm addicted to being around them, talking with and interacting with them, and observing my children with their speech and debate friends.  What a great environment for them!  I'm addicted to attempting to judge every round I possibly can.  This Spring, just weeks before our baby Tovi was due/born, I took the kids to their 4th tournament, and I was able to judge (thanks to some friends from church helping at home with our little guys and for my awesome husband for keeping them home instead of having me take them with us).  I judged almost every preliminary round at that tournament, and two outrounds.  I am addicted.  Why did I judge so much?  It wasn't for the grand prize for most rounds judged (haha), but it is because I am addicted to hearing these outstanding young speakers.  I LOVE hearing them speak on topics about which they are passionate.  I LOVE hearing them debate skillfully and courteously (call me crazy, but I LOVE to flow rounds). I LOVE watching the creativity of the interpretive speeches.  I LOVE getting to fill out ballots and write lots of comments that can help speakers improve their speeches.  I truly LOVE getting to encourage them with words that express to them how much they encourage *me*!  I love to pray for them and tell them that I'm praying God's blessings on them as they continue to strive for excellence and above all strive to glorify a God and learn to communicate well for His glory.  I LOVE getting to know the other parents, hanging out and talking with them. I have been encouraged and inspired by so many wonderful parents over the last few years.  I truly, truly LOVE this activity for my kids, for my family and for myself!  Oh!  I can't forget to menttion how I LOVE this activity for my younger kids, who get to time events so they can be a captive audience and hear great speakers and be inspired for their own future communication.  They have even had the chance to compete at the juniors level at some tournaments.

This is all wonderful, but it does require commitment and sacrifice.  It takes a lot of time to prepare and compete.  Traveling to tournaments can be costly as well.  We are at the point where we like to go to as many qualifiers as we can, so this all adds up to lots of time, money, and the sacrifice of other activities at times.  But I am here to tell you that it is all worth it.  The benefits both Todd and I see from participating in speech and debate, even for the younger children, far outweigh the sacrifices we make to do it.  

So, I see this as just the beginning of our family's adventures in speech and debate. With all of my children down to our tiny little 8-week-old Toviel, it is one activity to which we will remain committed.  We hold this activity above so many others in which our family can be involved because it is so important for our children to learn to communicate well as ambassadors for Christ in this fallen world.  If we have to give up activities for whatever reasons, this one will be the last to go.  Abby, Tovi, and I flew from the National Championship in DC to Florida to spend the week with my dad.  The rest of the family drove to meet us here.  I have had a few days to reflect on this tournament "high" that I felt last week.  One thing is certain: I can't wait til next year!  

"...sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence." 1 Peter 3:15

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