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Judging Isn’t Scary

Judging Isn’t Scary.

It’s true. Judging isn’t scary. Well, it may feel that way at first, but judging at Speech and Debate tournaments is a great way to help your students and your community.

The only way tournaments can occur is when members of the community agree to judge at tournaments. Without judges, tournaments simply can’t happen. That’s a lot of pressure, no doubt. But I think we can agree that such opportunities for students are important. The acts of practicing and then competing are unparalleled at helping students grow and expanding their perspectives of the world. Knowing how to research, the repetition of rhetoric, working through the struggles of being your best, honing the ability to learn from others, learning from mistakes and then correcting those mistakes—all of these aspects of Speech and Debate are all valuable skills young people should learn. It gives them an edge both in high school as well as when they move forward after high school. So they need you to do this.

But judging seems daunting. What if you make a mistake? What if you don’t know what to say? What if the student knows more about the subject than you? And what if you’re wrong? You could ruin a student’s experience and that means you have ruined their life.

Absolutely none of that is true.

Judges don’t go into a round without discussing what they are about to do. There is training. And you have the perfect people to ask questions of: your students. You can absolutely judge at a tournament! Don’t believe me? Let me tell you a story.

When I competed in high school I recruited my mom to judge at the tournament we were hosting. She asked tons of questions before she ever arrived at the competition. She went to the judge training. She asked other parents about their experiences. She was ready and she was excited. And then she judged her first round.

After the round, my coach asked me to go talk to her. My coach said there was a problem with the ballot. I went into the Hospitality Lounge and there was mom, seated at a table and looking at her ballots. As I approached, she looked up and said, without hesitation, “You can’t make me do this so don’t even try.”

I had no idea what mom was talking about. The issue was this: she couldn’t pick just one person to whom she could award the 1st place. The students were all too good. They had obviously worked hard. How could she possibly say that their work wasn’t fantastic? That they had somehow failed?

I talked to her. I told her to write her thoughts on the ballot, to find things the speakers did well and to think of areas that could use improvement. And I told her that students EXPECTED her to rank the round. That they wanted her thoughts so they could improve. As long as she had a reason and could explain that reason, no one would be upset. So she started writing and then ranked the students. She began to see her role as a bit of an educator, which is exactly what a judge should do.

Judging helps student become better at what they do. It helps our team because as a judge, you can speak to your own child or other team members about what you are seeing. It helps share the wonderfully unique perspective of the Grady HS community as well as your own perspectives. Judging helps grow a group of individuals that sees the potential in young people and helps them succeed in a truly remarkable activity. It is also a chance to see what your child is spending so much time on. I didn’t let my parents see me compete until the last tournament of my senior year. Some students never let parents see them in competition—they get too nervous. By judging, you can connect with your child and appreciate even more the risks they are taking and understand why they are growing into confident, self-sufficient leaders. How great is THAT?!

Judging isn’t scary. Well, at least not so scary that you should avoid it. You’ve got this. I mean, your child is the event and you raised them. Think of it as the apple falling from the tree. You have the same roots, right? You can do this. And I guarantee you’ll love it. Hope you can help us out!

Mario Herrera

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The New Normal, the Jesters Way — A message from Mario

French author, journalist and philosopher Albert Camus once remarked that “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” I find this concept to be true, even alluring. As someone who grew up in the high desert of New Mexico, I am always memorized by the changing of seasons of the south. Fall may be my favorite season. I go out of my way to find piles of leaves to step upon, kicking up the golds, oranges and reds, smiling as they spin up and back down to join the heaps of leaves waiting on the ground. There is something special about autumn, about the leaves of fall spilling on to the ground as flowers of autumn.

This autumn is the same as others but oh so different. In this pandemic, political climate, economic crisis and educational mishmash, fallen leaves can be taken for granted. I suppose to a certain extent this makes sense. Life is different and will be for some time to come. But that chill in the air, pumpkins are on porches and the leaf flowers from branches give us some sort of normalcy at a time where we are desperate for some sort of normal.

Normalcy in the Speech and Debate world is a new type of normal we are still trying navigate. I am off to a slower start than I would like, as is the rest of the high school community. Tournaments are late to be announced, some are cancelled without notice and yet others appear from thin air. But, little by little, a new normal is being found.

To help bring this new normal to the Jesters, and with the help and diligence that can only be found in the Grady High School community, this website offers normalcy. On it you will find information that can help navigate the winds of uncertainty. I know that we have a later start than before, a start that may have even been frustrating to some. For that I greatly apologize. Hopefully that feeling is ameliorated a bit with necessary information.


This website will house our tournament competition calendar, a calendar that will provide information of who is eligible to attend the tournaments and who is “hosting” them. Our practice schedule is also on the calendar, as will be team events, such as our watch parties for the Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates, and for meetings of the Parent Boosters and other such other Zoom gatherings. We will update the calendar as often as we can. The coaching staff understands the importance of information. It is also important to us. Accurate information is vital.


I have said it before and I’ll say it again. The Grady HS community is unparalleled in its support and involvement. Our Booster Club supports our efforts as we move forward in to competition season. This group of supporters deserves respect.

To that end, because of the tardiness of the beginning of tournament communication, I have searched for ways to ease the any overload that burden parents and families might encounter with judging at tournaments, I reached out to alumni. They have been judging those tournaments from as far away as Boston and Chicago.  Some parents have jumped in with both feet to assist in judging rounds, as they always do. With necessary information now available to all, the community can once again be part of our competition family as they always have been but this time with information they need to do so. I thank everyone for their continued support, led by our amazing Boosters.

The number of ways that parents can be engaged with the team are numerous and we MUST have that engagement. It is the only way to assure continued success. We cannot do it without you.


All competitors have, or soon will, accounts on, tournament software that provides a space for students to sign up for competition, gives details on events, schedules and rules at different tournaments and for communication to team members, judges and parents. Judges also use this platform to learn of tournament information as well as to access online ballots for competition rounds they are judging. It is a remarkable product offered for free by the National Speech and Debate Association of which we are a member school. Most competition information can be found through

The online platform that most schools in the nation are using (but there are definitely other platforms being used at particular tournaments) is called NSDA Campus. The platform sits on top of, making for a relatively seamless way to both observe and adjudicate virtual tournaments. When judges sign up for a tournament, information is shared about the exact process. The team also holds a Zoom meeting the evening before the tournament to explain to those unfamiliar with the program and walk them through the process. In the past we have only had meetings when there are Jesters unfamiliar with the platform. But I believe that, moving forward, we will have a Zoom meeting before every tournament. The team needs to be together for support and encouragement.

We are currently exploring different ways to stay in touch with each other during actual tournaments. While NSDA Campus provides a “Squad Room,” we want a different way to stay connected. More on that soon.

Students are responsible for signing up for tournaments in nearly every circumstance with certain, few exception. All tournaments for the rest of this semester are now open. Students are told about signups through each event’s group chat and told to sign up be the given deadline. Some tournaments have waitlists and release entries from the list in their own time. Other tournaments allow students to directly register. Grady HS coaching staff must approve each signup entry before the entry is accepted by the tournament. As long as students meet the criteria for entering the tournament (criteria is found on each tournament event on the team Google Calendar) and meet the deadline, they can attend tournaments. Once that happens, all students, judges and parents will be notified by tabroom email about the tournament entry and given additional details.


Finally on this point, students who drop tournaments after the deadline are still responsible for drop fees, which are usually just the entry fees. Some tournaments charge additional drop fees.

Finally, let me conclude by saying that the new normal of practice and competition is not the old normal and they should not be compared to one another. Mistakes will be made and corrected. Communication will look differently than in the past. Technology issues, involvement in other activities, personal activities and schedules may all of the sudden come in to conflict, and most importantly the academic expectations and vigor in a virtual world all require us to be patient and understanding. We will be responsive and understanding. The most important aspect of this activity is to make sure students continue to stretch and go. This world is difficult on students and families. Together we can make the experience a positive and wonderfully unique experience. Falling leaves signify a transition to something new allowing for future new growth. The flowers of autumn continue to bloom in each other.

Mario Herrera