+1 (207) 370-4MFA

Minutes: 2020 Fall Coaches Meeting

Debate and Speech

4:00-8:00 p.m. September 11, 2020

Pre-submitted reports

For the sake of focusing on key topics below, we’ve moved officer and moderator reports to a document linked above for you to read at your convenience.

Summary of decisions and action items

Introducing our new MFA webmaster, Nick Waldron. For any submissions to the MFA web site, including tournament invitations, contact Nick directly.

As we evolve into a virtual tournament season, we made significant decisions to:

  • Use the new NSDA Campus online tournament platform as our primary platform, and refer to Jitsi and Webex as backup platforms for the 2020-2021 season.
  • Have the MFA officers and moderators serve as tournament hosts for the 2020-21 season.
  • Defer finalizing the tournament calendar to the MFA officers and moderators before the end of September.
  • Adjust entry fees for the 2020-21 season to $7 per entry. For students registering from MFA member schools, entry fees are only $5 per entry.
  • Adopt a code of online conduct for the 2020-2021 season to be reviewed in the Spring Meeting.
  • A subcommittee will convene to plan logistics around virtual Extemporaneous Speaking competition.

We have a draft Equity Statement thanks to Josh Denk, Randy Hughes-King, and D’Arcy Robinson. The draft will include some feedback from this meeting and we’ll revisit in the Spring.

Since the Maine NSDA Dale Denno Congressional Debate Tournament assumes we’ll be competing at the Maine State House and that’s unlikely this year, we will name the virtual tournament after former Kennebunk High School coach and emeritus Congressional Debate moderator Paul Bibeau.


Pat Spilecki (Lewiston HS), Joe Pelletier (Bangor HS), Margaux DePue (Kennebunk HS), Jason Curry (Greely HS), John Russell (Yarmouth HS), Grace Rafferty (Yarmouth HS), David Arenstam (Thornton Academy), Ellen Parent (Falmouth HS), Lyndsy Denk (Falmouth HS), Josh Denk (Falmouth HS), D’Arcy Robinson (Poland Regional HS), Samantha Gottwalt (Casco Bay HS), Molly Callaghan (Deering HS), Krista Simonis (Deering HS), Amy Trask (Bangor HS), Lisa Melanson (Cape Elizabeth HS), Michelle Adams (York HS), Melanie Kyer (York HS), Gayle Giguere (Waterville HS), Kathleen Halm (Lincoln Academy), Gene Rouse (Skowhegan Area HS), Kailey Smith (Lawrence HS), Randy Hughes-King (at large), Nick Waldron (at large), Sam Rouse (at large)

Welcome and introductions

Vote on Parliamentarian for the meeting 

Nomination: Hughes-King (Pelletier, Adams)


Approval of Spring Meeting minutes (Curry, Spilecki, 14 yes, 1 abstain)

Approval of Treasurer’s report (Curry, Pelletier; 13 yes, 1 abstain)

Virtual tournament season

The Technology Committee and Executive Board are proposing a fully virtual competition season 2020-2021. Representatives will share the platform plan (including a backup), expected expenses, training plans and needs, and recommendations otherwise.

  • Platform: NSDA Campus with a backup (Jitsi)
  • MFA board and moderators host tournaments
  • Tournament fees: $7 per entry ($14 for a two-person event), but $5 for MFA members ($10 for a two-person event)
  • Allow in-round internet research access for Debate and Congress competitors.
  • Not offer Duo Interpretation.

Other topics related to virtual tournaments:

  • Equity exchange
  • Code of ethics
  • Security

Platform selection

Waldron: No matter the platform, there will be technical challenges, access challenges. The goal while selecting a platform: balancing our district’s needs with cost. The NSDA platform is based in Tabroom. Links to virtual competition rooms are in Tabroom.

Advantages: It’s in Tabroom and it’s what we know.

Disadvantages: The host must be an NSDA.

L. Denk: This is not the same as the classrooms.cloud that NSDA used for their national tournament this last June.

Rouse: We are also looking into a discounted Webex enterprise solution to power our backup solution if we don’t like the NSDA.

Parent: The web site says you don’t have to have paid NSDA membership.

Waldron: I thought the same thing up until I tried log in. It gave me an error saying I needed a paid school membership to access.

Adams: Will the NSDA provide weekend support?

L. Denk: We should confirm that, but I’d like to think they MUST be providing staffing on weekends. When I sat through a workshop with Aaron Hardy from the NSDA, he made it sound like technical support was going to be an increasing priority.


  • Webex $144/host with 3 hosts recommended ($432 or $36/tournament for 12 tournaments)
  • Jitsi free, open source platform
  • NSDA $6/room. Estimated 70 rooms per tournament. $3600 for the year

Robinson: Can we run both platforms concurrently?

  • Hughes-King: That would mean running two tournaments concurrently.

Waldron: NSDA’s platform has limitations on room-based participation (that is no more than 14 users per room). This poses a challenge for something like awards and maybe even judge briefings.

Parent: I would recommend using Webex or Jitsi to host those larger room needs like awards, briefings, lounges. The idea behind having the backup with Jitsi is in the event we have to quickly bail for technical reasons and move competition.

Motion (Curry): I move that the MFA uses the new NSDA online tournament platform as a primary, and JITSI as a backup platform for the 2020-2021 season. (Robinson)

Russell: Can we livestream awards?

  • Waldron: We would need a solution for that. Jitsi or Webex would work well.

Kyer: Will either of these have a way for us to do trial runs with students for practice (for them and us!)?

  • Waldron: NSDA does offer virtual practice space if you are a member. Jisti offers plenty of space to grab rooms.
  • Rouse: Webex hosts could make space. If we needed more space, we would have to purchase for more hosts.

L. Denk: With the motion on the floor, I think we need to dive in with NSDA first with backup as Jitsi. We don’t know what we don’t know. We’ll re-evaluate 

PASS Motion amended (Curry): I move that the MFA uses the new NSDA online tournament platform as a primary, and JITSI and WebX as backup platforms for the 2020-2021 season. (14 yes, 1 abstain)

Parent: NSDA gives us the most legitimacy with schools. There are issues with some schools limiting students using certain platforms. I use Webex for work. Jitsi works great.

Hosting the virtual tournament season

Curry: Proposing that the MFA take responsibility for hosting this season’s tournament. Benefits: You don’t have to become an expert. Normally we don’t recommend deferring that responsibility, but this year we think host for your all is a service we should provide.

  1. We would like to consider starting the season later.
  2. We would like to space out the tournament season.

Those two additional suggestions mean we won’t be the earliest district/national qualifier.

Additional benefits of MFA hosting: Your expenses for transportation, custodians, food, etc. have disappeared. With the MFA taking the lead, we’re taking responsibility for the finances associated with a virtual platform.

Adams: One of the “joys” of hosting a tournament is finding extra judges. How would that happen?

  • Parent: I budgeted for paying additional judges. We expect that finding judges might actually be a little easier to find because of the stay-at-home perk.
  • L. Denk: Yes, if the MFA is collecting registration fees, we would be responsible for paying hired judges. That said, as always, we need everyone’s help in recruiting judges.

PASS Motion (Curry): I move that the MFA acts as tournament hosts for the 2020-21 season. (Robinson) (12 yes)

Tournament fees

  • Tournament fees: $7 per entry ($14 for a two-person event), but $5 for MFA members ($10 for a two-person event)

PASS Motion (Curry): I move that entry fees for 2020-21 season should be $7 per entry and MFA member schools pay $5 per entry. (Adams) (12 yes)

Allowing internet access

Pelletier: See my moderator’s report for how the NSDA handled this. They offered access and offered tech time outside of prep. 

G. Rouse: Can we add Extemp to this discussion? We offered internet access sometimes last year.

  • K. Smith: We voted in internet access for Extemp in the spring already.

PASS Motion (Curry): Internet research should be allowable for Extemp, Congress, and Debate for the 2020-21 season. (Robinson) (10 yes)

Pelletier: I think we need to make the change for virtual tournaments. We can revisit this when we resume in-person tournaments.

Robinson: This might mean a manual change. It could be “In the event of a virtual tournament…” I don’t see virtual tournaments going away.

Table running Duo Interpretation during virtual tournaments

K. Smith: As much as it pains me, I don’t think it’s safe to run Duo during the pandemic.

S. Rouse: I wouldn’t limit the language to virtual only. This is about safety during a pandemic.

Fail Motion (K. Smith): Temporarily not allow Duo as a category in speech until state safety precautions have been lifted. (L. Denk) 

Robinson: I would leave it open in the event it’s safe mid-season to bring students back together.

Parent: I’m not sure we need to discuss this. This type of thing is usually a host discretion and if the MFA is hosting, our invitation will almost certainly say they won’t be running Duo.

Curry: Concur. With all due respect to the motion, I think we can safely vote it down.

Equity exchange

L. Denk: I want to make it clear that virtual format will pose equity challenges. It also poses opportunity.

K. Smith: “Equity” is a buzzword of the MPA.

Simonis: are we using a platform that allows for mobile device usage?

  • Waldron: Jitsi has mobile. NSDA might.

Robinson: Schools may have handed out devices but google meets have shown me that some platforms don’t work well in some areas.

Kyer: is the nsda campus platform accessible via chromebook? Is there a tech requirement (speed, etc.) to be considered? I got a mac this summer just to handle the zoom load but not everyone can.

Parent: Students in PF might be using second devices to communicate with each other, for example during prep time. There might be a modality in the NSDA platform to communicate, but other apps might be easier.

Curry: The next agenda item addresses using technology for an unfair advantage. We can clarify more.

Russell: What about having students compete from within schools?

  • L. Denk: We talked about this and determined that it has to be a school-based decision. Logistically we can’t police it. We also recognize that the school may be the student’s best access to internet. Our official position is to simply make safe decisions for you and your students.

Code of conduct

Read here.

This is largely from the Internet Society’s code of conduct and adjusted to meet our needs.

L. Denk: Can you compare this to the MFA code that’s already on our web site? And is this supplemental to that code?

  • Curry: I didn’t refer to the MFA code. This is intended to be supplemental.

Hughes-King: We should look at this with the draft Equity Statement.

Simonis: Is this where it would be beneficial to include in expectations that judges and students are expected to do their best to make sure they are in a space free of distractions, and judges should not take into account environment for judging decisions.

  • Curry: Will add a line.
  • S. Rouse: A virtual background can be helpful to those who might need to obscure their environment.
  • K. Smith: Make sure the language is to “try their best.” 
  • Pelletier: Recommend that virtual backgrounds remain neutral. Clarify that, similar to how costuming is not allowed outside of Storytelling, those backgrounds should be neutral.
  • K. Smith: Specify that the virtual background should remain neutral even in storytelling.

PASS Motion (Hughes-King): I move to have the code of online conduct adopted by the MFA for the 2020-2021 season to be reviewed in the Spring Meeting. (Kyer) (13 yes)


L. Denk: In case schools ask, what can we say about how these platforms are secure for all who participate?

Waldron: I just learned that the NSDA is learning a form of Jitsi. They are implementing every security feature they can, from what I can see. For our own use of Jitsi, we also would apply every security feature we can within reason. Same with Webex. We’re identifying issues and resolving them to the best of our ability should they arise.

S. Rouse: Webex is a well-established enterprise platform. Jitsi is an at-call platform, unlike Zoom, which requires you to download it onto your device.

2020-2021 Calendar

Start the season with some mini-tournaments to serve as practice to develop familiarity with the platform. Also, we propose we start later and slow down the season to space it out for longer and perhaps let NSDA get the bugs worked out on other people instead of us. 

PASS Motion (Curry): I move the calendar be created and sent to members for approval by the Exec Board. (Kyer) (11 yes, 1 abstain)

Old business

Spears fund (Lisa Melanson, Cape Elizabeth HS)

Parent: Spear fund is healthy. I don’t know what Lisa wanted to specifically address, so I say we move on.

Robinson: What if we took the money that we intended to give for the live MPA luncheon, we then allocate to pay for the student’s entry fee to nationals.

Hughes-King: Aren’t there rules for now to use the funds?

  • Parent: I haven’t heard of any specific rules.
  • Robinson: We have power to award as we see fit, but the rule is to have the person present to the MPA.

Pelletier: What if the person doesn’t attend nationals?

  • Parent: I would suggest the money serve as a scholarship, then. First it could go to entry fees for any national tournament or issue it as a cash scholarship directly to the student.
  • Robinson: That’s then really just a scholarship. If the kid doesn’t go to nationals, we could feed the money down to the alternate or the school. The intent is to encourage students to try to do well in their events.

New business

MFA equity statement (J. Denk, Falmouth; R. Hughes-King, at large; D. Robinson, Poland Regional HS)

J. Denk: The goal for this statement is to speak to gender and racial bias. It goes beyond the current MFA code of ethics and tournament-specific equity. As an organization we’re generally aligned that there is no tolerance for racism or discrimination. I wanted to see if we could dig deeper to be an organization that embraces anti-racism, recognizing racism as about power.

Parent: Having read through it, I thank you for this work. I would like to keep the Black Lives Matter statement. Some language I would like to be clearer is about recognizing our indigineous peoples community.

J. Denk: I concur and will adjust.

Hughes-King: This is an activity of responsibility for us to have this statement. What makes me proud of being a part of this organization is how our demographic of the event is strongly diverse. A Bangor student took the lead, using skills we helped teach them, to take an anti-racist stand.

DePue:  could we change “accessibility challenges” to just “accessibility”? That makes accessibility sound like a necessity and not an inconvenience.

J. Denk: Yes, I’ll make that change.

Waldron: If you are going to include indigenous people, I would add a topic heading on eliminating barriers on indigenous people and eliminating discrimination. This is really, really good and I look forward to publishing it to the web site.

Pelletier: This is very well worded and thought out. Is it appropriate that we approach students, specifically maybe the Council of Nine. Or distribute it to select students and alumn to get their opinion. There was a Kennebunk student who was getting involved in inclusion activities in forensics. I think he’s moved on.

Robinson: I’ve been in touch with this student. She’s very interested in helping and serving in an advisory role. I shared it with some of my students who are involved in some of these things. I also shared with some alumn. I’m willing to collect that feedback. I will definitely bring to the Council of Nine.

Hughes-King: From a personal note, I delved into these issues shortly after the Ferguson incident and I’m pleased to see the MFA participating in this.

J. Denk: Thank you to Hughes-King and Robinson for helping with this. I’ve already made changes about the accessibility feedback. I’ll edit more later. I do want to hear from Robinsin’s students. This was meant to be a first draft.

L. Denk: Within reason, I would love to see this statement get published by the start of our formal season. Our students deserve it.

Pelletier: Is the committee comfortable with us sharing this draft with select students?

  • Hughes-King: Yes. Feedback from everyone welcome.

Kyer: This is great work…I would be happy to see this online with “Draft” — and perhaps a caveat along the lines of “The MFA feels this is important and recognizes that our statement may change over time, but we would like to make a statement as early as possible.” Let not perfect be the enemy of the good.

  • General agreement.
  • L. Denk: Waldron is the new webmaster, so when you’re ready to release a draft, let him know.

Judging and coaching in the virtual environment

Pelletier: Coaching remotely I’ve found challenging. I worry about novices and managing their anxiety. I had a student drop out during a virtual tournament in May. He had computer issues and gave up quickly. I couldn’t give him the support as a coach to get him back into the competition. It’ll be key that we have communication pathways before going into tournaments.

Hughes-Kings: What kinds of guidelines have coaches set up?

Robinson: have your schools given you any guidelines about getting together with students?

  • J. Denk: Not ours. None whatsoever. We had to look on their web site to see even how their schooling is going. (We’re not teachers.)

Waldron: You might tap a student to be a technology champion to help guide their peers.

Hughes-King: Your individual teams can be as creative as you need to for practicing and building the team bond. As Congress moderator, I’m going to try to create video briefings and build off of those, for judges and students.

NSDA District Tournament in Congressional Debate

Hughes-King: Since we likely won’t have qualifiers at the State House and thus can’t hold the Dale Deno tournament, I propose 

Pass Motion (Curry): I move that we name the online Congress tournament The Paul Bibeau Qualifiers (Pelletier) (7 yes)

Curry: I think we could get him to attend the virtual tournament and give a keynote speech. He has been the most influential in Maine for congressional Debate.

Running Extemp virtually

S. Rouse: Extemporaneous Speaking is a unique event that requires students to randomly select a prompt and follow a rigorous timing schedule to prepare then deliver a speech. Virtual tournaments affect these logistics. How is it going to work?

Waldron: We can build a random number generator.

S. Rouse: this must be usable by any individual outside of Tabroom.

Robinson: Nationals still ran Extemp, but I don’t know how. We should look into that.

Curry: Might I suggest that we have an informal subcommittee to investigate this issue.

(General agreement.)