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Minutes: Spring 2021 Coaches Meeting

Debate and Speech

May 14, 2021


Lyndsy Denk (at large), D’Arcy Robinson (Poland Regional HS), Jason Curry (Greely HS), Randy Hughes-King (at large), Ellen Parent (Falmouth HS), Melanie Kyer (York HS), Kat Newcombe (Erskine Academy), Pat Spilecki (Lewiston HS), David Paye (Scarborough HS), Kailey Smith ((Lawrence HS (outgoing), Camden Hill HS (incoming)), Ben Grasso (Thornton Academy)

Key decisions and announcements

  • Changes to the 2021-2022 MFA leadership: President-elect Kailey Smith (Camden Hills HS), Speech moderator Melanie Kyer (York HS), Debate moderator Dan Haskell (Cheverus HS), Congressional Moderator David Paye (Scarborough HS)
  • Attendees opted to vote in a single moderator for debate.
  • Considering the ongoing volatility of school policies around larger group gatherings, the attendees deferred nearly all conversation about the next tournament season to online conversation over the summer, culminating at the fall meeting.
  • Prior to the Fall meeting, we will be voting on by-laws changes via online ballot. Review the proposed by-laws changes here.
  • The Judge of the Year award is now named for long-serving Congressional Debate judge Cindy Peters.
  • The attendees agreed that, for virtual tournaments, allowing judges from outside our district can be valuable and that, to avoid conflicts in judging culture, we ask all debate and Congress judges to draft a judge paradigm.
  • Congratulations and innumerable thanks to retiring coach Joe Pelletier (Bangor HS). Joe has given us a difficult to calculate number of years of service and leadership, culminating with earning his third diamond from the National Speech and Debate Association.

Pre-submitted reports

Virtual meeting

Welcome and introductions

Vote on Parliamentarian for the meeting (Hughes-King: Russell, Robinson; one ballot)


Approval of Fall Meeting minutes (unanimous approval)

  • Fall minutes are posted to maineforensic.org.

Approval of Treasurer’s report (unanimous approval)

  • We took in a fair amount of money because we hosted all the meetings. We’re still expecting payments.
  • Saved a lot of money related to trophies because NSDA trophy shop was reasonably priced.


Motion: Suspend the by-laws to vote for a President-elect (Kyer, unanimous)

Curry: What it means to be president: Be a people person and willing to work as an administrative team. Organization not necessary if you have organized partners. You don’t have to get into the weeds of specific categories.

  • Denk: Patience, conflict resolution
  • Robinson: President-elect is also a shadowing position. You technically 

Nomination Kailey Smith (Hughes-King, accepted)

Motion: We have a single slate of leadership (Curry, Smith) including President Elect: Kailey Smith, Vice President: D’Arcy Robinson, Treasurer: Ellen Parent

Speech: Melanie Kyer

Public Forum: Dan Haskell

Lincoln Douglas: Dan Haskell

Congressional Moderator: David Paye

Unanimous approval

2021-2022 Calendar

Parent: Does anyone have inclination from schools about whether we’ll be holding in-person events?

  • Smith: Most districts appear not to be making specific decisions until August. Maine Drama Festival is planning both.
  • Kyer: It’ll be easier to flip to virtual if necessary.
  • Denk: We extended this last season for virtual, expecting Zoom fatigue. We could continue to extend the season in March even for an in-person season.

Parent: Should we table this conversation for the Fall?

  • Denk: We at least need to schedule the coaches meeting in Fall.
  • Kyer: This virtual format lends to not having to take a day off of teaching.

Robinson: Some schools might run into budgeting concerns because we spent the last year saving on transportation costs. But many districts also want to get back to normal. What’s potentially a challenge is allowing a student lounge (a crowd) and Congressional Debate. Hybrids might be necessary.

  • Parent: We could run virtual early in the season.
  • Robinson: The hardest for virtual is Speech.

Robinson: My students liked having only two tournaments a month.

  • Parent: Mine appreciated the cadence, although debaters were disappointed when they had to change topics.
  • Russell: Congress kids liked having more time to prepare.
  • Curry: You lose seniors when you extend the season due to senioritis.
  • Newcombe: Most of my students were first year, so keep that in mind. They felt it was a lot, but that might’ve been pandemic stress. One said she felt it was very rushed, like a marathon.

Curry: We have the discretionary power to hold onto a topic longer than nationals would. If we’re receiving near universal feedback that the debate topics are too short-lived, we can have fewer topics in a year.

  • Kyer: I would support that. My kids would, too.
  • Grasso: My students need a healthy amount of change. The 2-month rotation works well for them.
  • Hughes-King: When I was a competitor, having to write new cases monthly was a rush.
  • Parent: If we deviate from nationals topics scheduling, we should pay close attention to communicating clearly about which topics we’re using. We could use the web site for that.

Denk: I can pointedly communicate to coaches about this discussion and summarize the ideas that we’re leaving toward.

  • Robinson: It might be worth pulling together a survey.
  • Denk: I can do that.

Kyer: I’m not ready to commit.

  • Parent: I’d like to think that Falmouth can host, but it’s scary.

New business

District leadership succession

NSDA members were recently able to vote for the next district committee. As of August 1, 2021, your Maine District Committee is:

  • Lyndsy Denk (chair)
  • Dan Haskell
  • Jason Curry
  • D’Arcy Robinson
  • Ellen Parent

By-laws updates

See proposed by-laws language changes here.

Curry: Those who can’t attend the meeting should vote via survey. But we should open up discussion.

  • Denk: 
  • Curry: We can post a survey for voting to complete within the weekend after the Fall meeting.
  • Hughes-King: You can package the administrative clean-up things into a single proposal.

Parent: I can look into an electronic voting system that is anonymous.

  • Denk: Do those platforms account for requiring only a single vote per school.
  • Parent: Yes, they ask for a roster of voters.


State Tournament handbook language changes based on learnings from virtual season structure. Offer flexibility to collapse events a la Dramatic Performance to boost quality of competition.

  • Robinson: I would like to table this conversation to Fall so coaches who have more interest can speak to it. I also recommend that we make more specific guidance about what’s collapsable.
  • Hughes-King: Is there a model nationally that we can follow?
  • Parent: I think what you’re asking is if this is going to be difficult and the answer is no.

State Tournament precedent: Excluding a low enrollment event from Sweeps.

  • Denk: 
  • Hughes-King: Anything to keep students participating is a good thing. Low enrollment should be included in Sweeps.
  • Curry: It sounds like we agree in preserving the event is important. It’s about assessing how a team is benefited to the detriment of other teams.
  • Robinson: Let’s consider what happens in other events, like track and field. Historically track and field excludes team benefit for a low enrollment event. Gymnastics has run into that, racewalking. Big schools, though, benefit because they flood the events. We could consider doing school division sweeps.
  • Kyer: As a small school, I think honoring the kid and letting them compete is great.
  • Curry: Let’s say there are two kids signed up for Senate and we love them, bless them, but they’re not good at competition. You might say that it’s unfair to the students in the House for those Senators to earn more points for placing if House is more competitive.

Name Judge of the Year award

  • Cindy Peters (proposed by Jason Curry)
    • Curry: Cindy has been a Congressional Debate judge for probably decades. She has boundless energy, enthusiasm. Recently, due to access and familiarity with computers hasn’t judged as much. What I think speaks in her favor is that she’s been a judge all this time. Other nominees have primarily been coaches rather tha volunteer judges. I would advocate to name this award after someone who has never been paid to be a coach, and instead has been a volunteer of their time.
    • Spilecki: I agree with Cindy. I often brought two computers with me to tournaments and coached her on how to use a computer for online balloting. She never felt fully comfortable, but she took on the challenge.
  • Candy Gleason (proposed by D’Arcy Robinson)
    • Robinson: After listening to Jason, I agree with his. Candy is very deserving—as is Kris—but it’s apparent that it’s important to put a judge on this ballot.
  • Kris Deveau
    • Hughes-Kings: Kris has been a coach for three schools and NSDA district chair. Over the years, Kris has come back as much as she can to help me.

Curry: I would like to nominate Cindy Peters for the namesake of our annual Judge of the Year award. (Spilecki, unanimous).

Allowing random judges at virtual tournaments

Denk: Over the course of this last season we were faced with a byproduct of virtual hosting: a variety of judges reached out to the district looking for opportunities to judge and be paid. At the time, the officers and moderators did not feel comfortable allowing these judges without first discussing with the full organization. On one hand, we are always looking for judges. Judges from outside our state/district offer new and unique perspectives that sometimes we’ll appreciate and other times have strong opinions against. And if any of these judges fails to appear, it adds an organizational burden. So we can opt to allow these judges in the future or we can disallow. If we allow them, we might think about how much to offer to pay and what kind of training we would ask them to complete to better understand our district.

Robinson: Yes, we need to know who is judging our kids and the judging philosophies. We could ask ask judges to complete judge philosophy/paradigm. I think it matters much more in debate, but it’s still important in Speech.

  • Grasso: As a coach who is perennially on the cusp of a team that needs extra help with judges, I feel like I’m always in need, then not. Is there a vetting system? I’m thinking about a school with a sub-pool.
  • Curry: A lot of time I’m the one receiving these requests (as president). A lot of them have persuasive CVs: “I’ve attended nationals twice.” “I’ve ranked at States.” These could be valuable assets.
  • Denk: Ben, we have coaches who collect judges. D’arcy, the tech committee can investigate collecting judging paradigms.
  • Kyer: If it becomes known that we’re hiring random judges, I want some level of security where we build more of a network.
  • Hughes-King: Some of our networking used to extend beyond parents and alumn; we used to reach out to universities. That’s harder now that teams are defunct. We’ve never done a targeted recruitment.
  • Robinson: It’s tough enough to fill our current leadership roles. I like the idea of judge paradigms.

Speech breakout

No discussion

Debate breakout

Manuals are outdated. Is it reasonable to consider deferring guidance to NSDA documentation? Discuss in the Fall.

Congressional Debate breakout

Docket submission guidelines

  • Hughes-King: This has been bubbling for the last couple of years. We has a plagiarism concern that we had to deal with. We’ve had an emergence of frivolous bills.
  • Russell: I know judges can get frustrated. However, these are students. A full docket of frivolous is inappropriate, but some of these so-called silly bills can be more engaging than we expect and fun. Example: We had a bill about low-flush commodes that turned into a really fun debate.
  • Curry: In the time since that bill, it’s actually come up in US congress
  • Paye: I agree that there is a place for these as long as they don’t go overboard.
  • Raftery: I guess the moderator has the discretion to say, “We’ve had a lot of these; tone it down.” I remember as a student, new to debate, and found these funny bills to be nice icebreakers. It can make it more comfortable. That said, I think there’s room for the moderator to have some discretion. The Bir Tawil legislation issue was resolved really well. John and I had the opportunity to advocate for its inclusion and the system worked.
  • Hughes-King: Yes, it worked. And I’m glad we went through the process of bringing it to the executive committee.
  • Robinson: I also think these bills can be worthwhile. I also believe we have great students who are passionate and can police a lot of this themselves. They can debate on silly topics and move on.
  • Spilecki: I’ve had the honor and privilege to judge congress over the years. Some of my favorite times were when the chamber finished early, tabled the agenda, then proposed silly bills to run extemporaneous bills. It was an opportunity to see dedicated/serious students do something a little more silly.
  • Russell: I have a couple practical suggestions:
    • No item of legislation be categorically rejected unless it’s offensive. Examples: Racial, sexist. Certainly there are gray areas.
    • The moderator be trusted to exercise discretion in creating a good docket out of what’s submitted for the upcoming meet. And the moderator maintain a back docket to table legislation when there is an abundance of submissions and help balance the serious/silly, duplications.
  • Hughes-King: 10-15 bills are appropriate for a virtual tournament. 15-18 for an in-person tournament.
  • Curry: When youd elay a bill into a reserve docket, you can reduce the ability of the competitor to speak to that bill.
  • Raftery: We can help students understand that when they submit a bill that’s less serious, it’s possible that it could be recycled. To add to moderator discretion and the judges who provided feedback about the quality of legislation: Make sure coaches receive that feedback from judges.
  • Denk: We have some great guidance from this conversation. Let’s pull together a document/resource and make sure it’s on the website.
  • Russell: Coaches could submit legislation with notes about prioritizing legislation to benefit the student.