It's easy to get tunnel-vision in forensics. You've got a tournament on the horizon. You need to research, write, memorize, and practice. You have work sessions with your coach. You show your events to alumni who competed a year or two ago. At tournaments, your head is in the game. Outside of tournaments, you're dissecting speech and debate with the people who know it best.
It's easy to focus on the people who understand forensics the most. Your coaches, teammates, and alumni understand the minutia about the activity that may get lost on other people. Topicality? Inherency? Character pops versus character melds? It sounds like gibberish to many, but the people who speak this language help you improve. They're in the center of the activity, the center of the human pyramid. Without them, it seems, you wouldn't be able to excel in the activity.
It's easy to forget that there are a lot of people who don't necessarily "speak speech" but are crucial to its existence. They're on the outside of the pyramid, but they actively support the whole thing.
Columnist Mike Pound of Joplin, Missouri, reflected on being a parent judge at his daughter's debate tournament. Calling it a "risky venture," Pound's column offers a third party viewpoint of forensics that we aren't often provided. The article is rife with references to his own perceptions of intellectual inadequacy when judging the "smart" kids. His daughter reminds him to tell debaters that he is a parent judge so they will "dumb down" their arguments. He judges some interp events and largely enjoys the experience. There is an undercurrent of exclusivity in the article. Pound paints himself as an outsider willing to sacrifice a Saturday to help his daughter's team.
It's easy to lament lay judges - the parents, teachers, and volunteers who never competed or coached but are willing to help. We spend our weekdays working on nuanced performances and arguments that we hope experienced judges will appreciate. Then, we get disappointed or angry when they go unnoticed by volunteers. (We're just as guilty at poking fun of ballots that provide little criticism or justification for ranks.) We forget, sometimes, that the forensics community is more than just coaches, competitors, and alumni. Tournaments cannot run without judges. Teams cannot exist without administrative support. Supplies cannot get purchased without budgets. The knowledge you bring to competition is built upon the knowledge of your coach(es), but also the teachers you've had in other subjects throughout the years.
Speakers need supporters. We need volunteers who are willing to sell concessions, judge rounds, raise funds, sign forms, and organize team functions. Sometimes these supporters can't give us the critical feedback we would like on our ballots. But it is worth remembering that without their help, there may not even be a tournament to attend.
The phrase, "Thank you for judging," shouldn't just be a formality - but a sincere expression of gratitude. Take some time this month to thank your supporters. If you haven't, maybe your team could sign thank you notes to put in the mail.
The smallest act of appreciation can go a long way in getting other people interested in forensics.