Tab Room Struggles
Our district just held its first varsity tournament of the season. From an administrative point of view it had its difficulties arising in some cases from human error and others from technical issues with how we use the tabbing software. We use a product called Speechwire to run most of the league tournaments. Its good software which meets our needs by allowing us to schedule and tab a tournament quickly and efficiently. It is web based which allows us to move the tabbing operation from location to location throughout the course of a tournament without any problems whatsoever, so long as we have access to the Internet. It allows several tab rooms at different venues to instantly see results as they are posted. We can even tab from our phones if the need arises (which it did at one tournament a few years ago). But one problem with web-based tabbing programs is, like I said, as long as the Internet is available it works fine. I recall one tournament in which the school I.T. manager decided to service the system and shutdown the Internet gateway, not realizing we were holding a tournament. After a period of sheer panic in the tab room we were saved by a guy who set up his phone as a gateway tether and allowed the tournament to continue.
At this tournament, we had one brief outage that was apparently somewhere between the two school sites we were using and the Speechwire server. Fortunately it only lasted about fifteen minutes and then things resumed normally with no loss of data. Good thing, because nothing irritates coaches more that finding out one of their kids results were not properly entered and nothing delays a tournament more than going back and trying to correct a tabbing error which changes the entire lineup of the break rounds in a particular category. Yeah, I know personally about such struggles. Fortunately, that did not happen this time. We also deal with all manner of anomalous behavior within the venues, such as computers which will not connect to printers, etc. Personally, I am a tech guy. I work with automation systems and such problems are enormously challenging to me, but I don't have time to try to debug some school's tech problems when there is a tournament to run. None of us do, so we generally quickly figure out work-arounds. Besides, I.T. guys are more territorial than Kodiak bears and do not appreciate random strangers attempting to change computer configurations under their charge.
The software used by tab rooms is always under revision. Customers ask for new features, tweaks, etc. and the software designer wants to constantly improve the function and utility of the product. Change is good. Change is welcome when it makes sense. Nevertheless, the tab room staff usually faces a number of slow-downs due to changes in the screens or procedures which are not always as intuitive as one would like. This introduces delays in the tournament even though our tab room administrator is usually current on the software and very capable of guiding us through the less common aspects of tournament tabbing. To be sure, some of the issues we encountered which delayed rounds, I had never seen before. One seemed to arise in differences between browsers, but most others in how the tournament was setup and managed by the tab room staff. Eventually the staff prevailed and the tournament moved to completion and kids went home with awards. Now the tab room staff is that much better prepared to deal with issues and prevent a repeat of the last mistakes. That is how we do it and run relatively good tournaments and by the middle of the season we are running them in our asleep. Well...a least some coaches think we must be asleep...or perhaps sedated.
The Judge's Struggles
Judges are probably the most unpredictable part of any tournament. They are often not on time. Of course that merely means, they fail to meet the starting time requested by the tournament administrators because most of the judges have to deal with mundane, real-world issues such as finishing their jobs and arranging for child-care and feeding their families. As a result, they arrive when they arrive and there is nothing more to say about it. Nevertheless, perhaps many judges do not understand the pressures placed on the tournament staff to keep things moving. Judges are told to remain in a judges lounge (if they are lucky) so they can be found when needed. But judges have needs that require them to leave from time to time, and usually the time to wander off is minutes before a tournament staffer runs in and starts calling for judges. Many judges have time constraints which need to be accounted in scheduling rounds and invariably, someone fails to notify the tab room staff. The situation becomes more desperate as the tournament winds on. Usually on the final day, judges tend to get restless and ask to leave as if they have more important things to do than sit in an over-crowded, noisy venue, eating cold rigatoni on the outside chance they may be needed for some break round which may not get underway in their life-times. The worst case scenario occurs when some judges simply vanish, probably due to spontaneous combustion but the staff is never told the real reason.
Finally, I would like to make a few comments about the November topics. I had a chance to judge Public Forum Debate and Lincoln Douglas this weekend. Mainly I was asked to fill-in for judges who were either delayed in arriving, absent doing those things judges need to do when they are not patiently waiting to be called, or simply because there were too few judges for too many sections of debate. Regardless, I am always happy to judge as I love listening to brilliant kids do their thing. Amazingly, I feel the resolutions proved to be debatable and that is the goal, after all. What I mean, though, is there did not seem to be any clash over definitions or interpretations. For example, in the Middle East foreign policy topic, I personally did not see any challenges to the meaning of "middle east", "foreign policy" and the like. Students were adaptive and prepared to deal with the opponent's cases in the context of the round. In Lincoln-Douglas, the same was true. While there was the expected clash of values, there was no struggling with different interpretations of "health care" even though the meaning of "universal" may be open to debate. In general, the LD rounds were balanced pretty evenly with Aff and Neg each winning about half the time. In PF, there is a strange kind of dynamic I notice frequently. Early in the tournament there seems to be an overwhelming bias for one particular side. But late in the tournament, during break rounds, the side bias becomes even and Pro and Con are split more-or-less fifty-fifty. PF Debate has a different kind of dynamic because teams choose their side and will tend to favor the side they feel is strongest, but by the time break rounds are being debated, both sides have very strong cases and so the results seem more evenly split.
So...we had our struggles, but the staff survived, judges survived, students survived, and the resolutions seem solid enough. Looking forward to the next one.