Classical Small School Debater Tips

Sid Thandassery | 11/4/22

Small school debating can feel kind of impossible sometimes, but there is always a silver lining and alternative methods to get things done.

Everybody in debate has their own unique experiences, and the same can be said for small school debaters. As a small school debater myself, there are a couple of important things that I wish I could’ve known when I first started debating. Of course, the situation of small school debaters can vary greatly, but (hopefully) this article can provide some clarity and assistance for those of you who might be navigating the circuit of debate without the backing of a large team. Now, here’s three tips that I wish I could’ve known earlier.

1].Online Tournaments

I think that circuit debating especially is getting a lot easier for small school debaters to access, but I still feel as though there is much room to improve. I think online tournaments are the best example of this as typically small school debaters cannot afford to fly out to national circuit tournaments multiple times a year, but the increase in online tournaments has been a point of solace for me and several other debaters. As a small school debater, it should be a top priority to attend online tournaments because you would be able to gain a lot of great experience without having to front any travel fees and such. This year there are a decent number of great tournaments that will be online. For example, the University of Kentucky’s debate program is running a series of tournaments this year called the TOC Digital Speech and Debate Series which will have three online tournaments on the weekends of December 2-4, February 24-26, and March 10-12. These tournaments are really great alternatives on weekends where many bigger schools might be traveling to tournaments like the Longhorn Classic at the University of Texas at Austin on December 2nd weekend. Here is a link to the UK website where you can find more information regarding these tournaments: Another great tournament that will be online is the Stanford tournament on the weekend of February 12th, and their information can be found here: Related to this is the idea of expenses and costs is fee and judge waivers. Something a little bit more frequent is the NSDA Scrimmage System which is often two round tournaments on weekdays and weekends. If that is something you are interested in, the link in here:

2]. Judge and Fee Waivers

Small school debaters should always seek judge and fee waivers (of course only if the debaters are in need of the waivers) because many debaters do not know that tournaments are often quite understanding of the economic situation of different debaters, but many of these tournaments still want you to have the opportunity to debate, so reaching out for cost related issues is something that would definitely ease the burden on debaters struggling to pay and navigate the debate circuit. This is something debaters in events like Lincoln Douglas might especially want to look into because many other events have larger judge pools, and it might be easier to find people or parents who can judge even at national level tournaments, but many national level Lincoln Douglas tournaments hold very high standards for their judges which forces most competitors to hire former competitors which creates somewhat of a demand for judges and allows many judges to charge higher prices. Independent of judge waivers, there are online communities that are extremely helpful for finding judges and making connections (making connections is something that is explored further in the next point). For Lincoln Douglas, there is a high school Facebook group where people request judges, and the judges found there are significantly cheaper than the fees that you will incur if you hire a judge through the tournament. If you are interested in the Lincoln Douglas High School Facebook group, here is the link:


The thing that has probably helped me, personally, out the most is reaching out to those around me. My school doesn’t have the largest Lincoln Douglas program, so in order to learn these things about circuit debate, I had to reach out to many national circuit debaters and ask questions. What I found was truly quite amazing. Literally everybody that I had reached out to helped me out and answered whatever questions that I had. Some debate events like Lincoln Douglas, I feel, get a toxic rap to them, but everybody is really willing to help; all you have to do is reach out and ask. THE PERFECT EXAMPLE OF THIS IS LITERALLY EQUALITY IN FORENSICS!! Anyways… This ties back into the Facebook mentioned above. Just by participating and paying attention to different people on the Facebook group, you will notice more people talking about different debate related things, and you can add your opinions and thoughts in safe, moderated space which further builds and strengthens a safe debate community. Communicating your experiences with other debaters is extremely important too because you might learn something new from somebody. With thousands of small school debaters scattered all around the country, communicating experiences might leave you with a solution to a problem you found unbeatable. You might also notice offers for adult help which is sometimes all a school’s debate program needs to get started and supported by the school administration. It is vital to understand that everyone wants you to keep debating, and there are people who will do their best to make it so that you can continue to debate.

These are just three tips that I think are super important for the small school debater grind (despite the fact that they might seem small). There is still most definitely a lot of nuances that this article does not go into simply because there are far too many nuances that vary person to person, but these bits of advice are some that I feel are most important. Hopefully, this was kind of useful. If anybody, small school or not, has any further questions please reach out to me or any of the staff because, after all, that’s literally what we are here for!