Speaking as the captain of a very small Speech and Debate program from a small public school (~150 students/grade, at most) that has had an inconsistent coaching staff over the past three years, managing a team is hard.
And without three years of competitive experience and free resources from the National Speech and Debate Association, it would be nigh impossible.
I’ve done as much as I could, in essence, but still, the rankings tell a different story.
My school has had some competitive success this year, but all over the state of New York and even beyond, those from bigger schools with far larger programs have had greater success.
Sure, there are some exceptions to this, but overall, because of larger teams, larger budgets, and historically effective coaching which has allowed for competitors to develop incredible amounts of talent and ability, which has subsequently been re-invested in the team via novice directors, meaning that over time, provided there is participation, there no longer needs to be formal coaches, but instead, adult administrators to manage team finances, tournament registrations, judging, and other related things.
I do not doubt the individual talent and ability that all competitors have, and I concede that it takes hard work and perseverance to make a program as mentioned above last, but with larger teams, this task becomes far easier.
In fact, even though a small team may send a member to the final rounds of the national tournament, unless multiple people can be sent, or unless a budget can be arranged so that it allows for competitors to compete frequently, the ability of the program will decline.
Not all of these can be attributed to a lack of funding and resources; after all, for a team to be successful, funding is meaningless: the individual hard work and ability of members matter more. But the fact of the matter is that unless there is a greater access to money, resources, and tournaments, it becomes much more difficult for small teams — or rather, younger teams — to see competitive success.
As alluded to before, a lot of this can be solved with a larger program, which would facilitate greater competition amongst teammates and therefore, greater competitive success, but looking at the numbers of my team compared to my school’s population and comparing it with the size of teams from larger schools (i.e., Adlai E. Stevenson), the proportions are roughly the same. There is only so much we can do.
Ultimately, to level the playing field, the community needs to make resources more accessible.
Coaches and school administrators have a vital role to play in this. Sharing resources, they can become the agents of a change that seeks to democratize an activity that can become very elitist and exclusive, and that pushes for consistent improvement amongst competitors.
There will always be the inexperienced competitors who may demonstrate little ability in their first few tournaments, but through the creation of a unified space to share resources and best practices, those competitors will have a much easier time developing the skills needed to not only succeed in Forensics, but to also succeed in the future.
And when competitors are at closer levels of ability, the competition between them will increase, but so will their camaraderie, as can be found in competitors who frequently see each other at the same levels of competition.
Moreover, when novices are enabled to succeed with more resources, this can have the added effect of diversifying competition at higher levels, so more competitors will be exposed to better competition, giving them the opportunity to make connections.
Greater cooperation, more often than not, solves many of the world’s greatest problems. There’s no reason to see why it wouldn’t work similarly in the speech and debate space.