Never in a million years would I have imagined that a student from my first year of teaching in one city would be judging the same debate round as a student I taught 16 years later in another city, all the while doing so from the comfort of their homes 2,300 miles apart. But that is a reality in the world of online, virtual debate tournaments. Never has it been easier to procure volunteer judges for debate tournaments – both online and in person – through the use of technology.
With online platforms, signing up judges is as easy as the judge registering for an account and providing their email address. In the speech and debate world, platforms like Tabroom.com and Speechwire.com allow volunteers to be linked to certain schools. These platforms provide a way for people to choose events they prefer to judge, as well as indicate times they are available. With an email address and phone number, tournament hosts are able to push out reminders and assignments to volunteers as the tournament progresses and they are assigned rounds to judge.
Other online volunteer management software platforms, such as Sign Up Genius and iVolunteer, allow potential volunteers to simply choose from the time slots they have created. Using Google forms is a simple and inexpensive way to let volunteers sign up as well.
While it may be easier to sign up and organize volunteer judges, the problem is still how to find those people who are willing to volunteer.
Naturally, former students and parents of students are great resources, but sometimes require a little prodding to get involved. With former students, reframe the conversation as a chance to give back to the program that helped them to achieve, and remind them of their expertise because they were once competitors. Parents can be offered an opportunity to see the full extent of what their child experiences at a tournament.
Another obvious place to start is with people in your school – teachers, counselors, administrators and other faculty. There is no better way for people to know what student competitors do than to volunteer to be a part of it. By experiencing it firsthand, staff can become valuable resources for recruiting others to the program. As they interact with students in their classes, they can start to identify ones who might enjoy speech and debate.
Many large businesses in your community may have a volunteer group within their company. Locally, the largest banking corporation has a system in which employees get incentives if they volunteer in the community. Another large government employer has a similar system. Spend some time online looking at larger businesses in your area to find out how to contact them.
Your local chapter of the Bar Association for attorneys can be a great resource as well. Look for other local chapters of organizations like the Criminal Defense Lawyers Association or the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). The leaders can send information to all their members, which saves the tournament host a great deal of work, eliminating the need to contact firms individually.
Professional educational or service organizations also can be a great resource. Delta Kappa Gamma is an international honor society for key women educators. The membership is comprised of current and retired educators. The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) is a part of the National Senior Service Corps and engages volunteers over the age of 55 in meeting community needs. There may be a chapter in your area that can help.
Another really great resource is the local Toastmasters Clubs. A quick search online can link you to local chapters. Don’t forget to reach out to professors in the communications and political science departments at local colleges and universities. Sometimes they will offer extra credit to their students to volunteer. Engaging a wide range of people from your community increases awareness for your program.
Many teams will hire judges to fill their tournament obligations and many tournaments will charge fees so that they can hire judges. However, with a wide array of online judge training available, it is even easier than before to have quality volunteers, which makes tournaments more accessible financially for schools.
Technology has expanded the possibilities for hosting tournaments for speech and debate, and we should take advantage of those opportunities. I only got to see my former students remotely for a couple of minutes, but introducing them to each other was not something I ever imagined would happen.
Mellessa Denny of Amarillo High School in Amarillo, Texas, has coached high school speech and debate for 23 years, with students participating on the local, state and national levels. She is the past president of the Texas Speech Communication Association, and in 2018 was selected as TSCA Secondary Teacher of the Year. In 2019, she received the NFHS Section 6 Outstanding Educator Award.