In Honor of The NCFL Grand Tournament This Weekend: Explaining Speech and Debate, ft. Frank Underwood

Memorial Day is right around the corner, and that can only mean one thing.

Cookouts? No.

Long weekend? FOH.

Bad decisions? Maybe.

The NCFL Grand Tournament? Ding ding ding!

“Fitz,” you’re probably saying to yourself, “I live under a rock; what’s the NCFL Grand Tournament; the Super Bowl for Canadian football?! National Canadian Football League?! Amirightguys?!”

Well, for you uncultured mutts out there, NCFL stands for National Catholic Forensic League. It’s one of the two high school forensics (speech and debate, not looking at dead bodies in order to prove the defense innocent) organizations in the USA, alongside the NSDA, the National Speech & Debate Association. Don’t let the name fool you; public and private school kids can compete in the NCFL.

The Grand Tournament is held on Memorial Day weekend every year, and the NSDA has their big shindig later on in June. I’ve been to NCFL’s twice: my junior year in Philadelphia and last year in Chicago. This year, it’s in Ft. Lauderdale.

It’s what Memorial Day weekend is all about people! SPEECH AND DEBATE! Right guys?! Right? No?

Ohhhhh that’s right, whenever forensics come up with anyone who doesn’t know what it entails, it’s met with the same response: “Oh speech! What’s that? Do you just give speeches? Like the JFK speech? ‘I Have a Dream?’ I love that speech! Give it right now!!1!11!1!”

I actually don’t blame those people. For those not exposed to it, it’s kinda confusing. Which is why, on this Memorial Day weekend, I’m explaining the logistics of forensics. I know I’ll need some help with it, so I’m gonna get some help from my good friend, Frank Underwood, the main character of House of Cards.

So speech and debate: it’s a complex thing, but once you know what it entails it’s kinda straightforward. You join in your school (We are CM) and you get dressed up in suits, go to local tournaments, and perform pieces similar to those in the theater.

Oh, and these local tournaments are almost always on Saturday mornings.

There’s a shit ton of categories. There’s Declamation, which is a memorized piece which was previously given by another person,

Prose is where you perform poertry with a small binder holding the script inside (categories either are memorized or with a binder), Original Oratory, which is just declamation but you write the piece yourself instead of taking someone else’s words, and Children’s Literature is the same as prose but with, well, children’s literature.

“You kiddin’ me right now with that?”

There’s a lot more categories to touch upon, but I’ll focus on the events I personally participated in on the NCFL scale: Dramatic Interpretation (DI) and Duo Interpretation. DI is a memorized piece from a playwright. These performances can be either a humorous or dramatic piece: think “A talking avocado must take control of the United Nations,”

or “A 10 year old gay, transgender, crippled male gets cancer after his alcoholic father killed his recently divorced mother.”

Duo, like DI, it’s a memorized piece from a script which can either be funny

or sad.

With all NCFL categories, there’s a time limit: from start to finish, with an introduction segment providing a summary of the plot as well as the title’s piece and author included, the limit is usually 10 minutes with a 30 second grace period. Now that might seem hard to perform under, but don’t worry: judges in the room can give you time signals as you go along.

Judges score things from 1-how ever many people are in the room; say, 6 for this example. 1 is the best score, 6 is the shittiest. It’s like golf: lowest score wins. No eye contact, no physical contact, and no props whatsover in speech; that’s what makes it different from theater and whatnot.

That’s a no-no, Francis. Badass, but a no-no.

So how does one get to the Grand Tournament? Easy: quals. Every school is divided into separate dioceses of the NCFL; it’s like regions. For example, my school was eligible to qualify in the Boston diocese, which along with the Worcester diocese accounts for all of Massachusetts. Depending on how many schools are in a diocese, there’s only a certain number of spots to head to Nattys (Boston has a lot of members, thus there’s 6 spots to NCFL’s in each category), so the competition is thick.

There’s 3 perliminary rounds at quals (as well as normal local tournaments). The NCFL website explains the structure for Nattys: “. . .each student competes in four preliminary rounds on Saturday. Each round, students will compete against 6 others in front of 3 judges. Judges will rank all entries in their section. The top 48 entries in each event advance to the octo-final rounds held on Sunday morning. Quarter-final and semi-final rounds continue throughout the midmorning and afternoon. Late Sunday afternoon, the top six entries in each category compete in the final round, judged by 5 judges.”

So that’s a lot to digest, huh? Very tiring to say the least.

But enough with the mumbo-jumbo rules, you (hopefully) get that. Let’s get into the logistics of a day of speech.

You wake up, get dressed, and head to the tournament thinking:

You’ve gotta walk in like you fuckin’ own the place. Play “The Man” by Aloe Blacc and tell yourself you’re the shit as you step into the tournament venue, usually a high school.

You go to your team meeting, where your “postings,” or basically your daily schedule, are given to you and you start to warm up.

frank team meeting

As you head to your first round, you see…them. Your most hated rival. The dude/chick who’s in EVERY fuckin’ round of yours. You’re SO much better than them; they didn’t even cut their piece right and you’re convinced they went over time last week.

You head in, see the competition, and like your chances. You’re excited for round 1.

Now, you may be feeling confident, but there’s still some things that can go wrong in a round.

You forget a line and it’s on the tip of your tongue.

frank come out

And then you have to improvise and you just know you done fucked something up.

Or you get to that part in the piece where you’ve had some trouble nailing in the past.

There’s some different things that can go wrong, but if you bullshit it well enough, you’ll be fine.

Hell, if you do well enough after a blunder, you can get some brownie points!

You technically can’t revise an already written piece because it’s not your words, but if you paraphrase a little bit, who fuckin’ cares? No one’s gonna notice.

After your performance, and unless you’re an overachiever/hardo and you’re entered in multiple categories, you then have to just sit there for about an hour while other people go. It can be nice when it’s someone you know up there or if the piece is good, but it’s usually as fun as watching paint dry.

frank civil war

But for the sake of this explanation of speech, let’s say you leave for your Duo round after you complete DI. You ask the judge if it’s all Gucci to head out, and there’s never a situation where they deny your advancements, so you go on your way.

So time for Duo. You get with your partner, and the new judge will probably ask you when you want to perform.

Whenever the time comes, you get up and do your thing. Again, like solo events, some shit can go down in DI. You or your partner might screw a line or two up; me and my partners have done that before. It’s always good to have some ad-libs prepared for when this happens to get your performance back on track and to get off without anyone noticing you really fucked up. If you or your partner don’t keep your respective heads on a swivel, it’ll quickly become a one man show when it should be a two man show (yay math).

Round ends. You chill until your next rounds start. Talk to some of your buddies, see how they did, match yourself up to them and internally degrade them, you know how it goes.

Next round starts, and it’s cool because you know that it’s a round you can do well, even win, in. There’s some weak competition in there, including a young and inexperienced freshman or sophomore.

A bad speech performance, generally speaking, falls into one of two categories: not enough effort/emotion; emotion reflecting that of a potato

Or too much effort/being a try-hard/making it so that you can’t take it seriously.

You’ve gotta find that happy medium, and sometimes no one else will be able to find that if you get lucky. Then again, you do have to rely on the judges’ discretion. Honestly, some judges have no idea what they’re doing.

But I digress.

You do duo, that’s nifty, and then comes more time to relax. At this point, 9/10 chicks there are now in some considerable pain because of their high heels. I gotta tip my cap here: these girls do their thang in these big ass heels. Seriously how do you ladies do it? If you’re a girl speechie, do yourself a favor: in between rounds,

and throw on some boat shoes or slippers or tissue boxes.

Wait, wrong show.

Round 3/3 in prelims is when you’re really in the zone. You might be a bit tired, but you’ve done all of your pieces two times already. This is where you gotta kill it, and it’s almost always the round you walk out of feeling like you fucked shit up the most.

And to make it even better, you’ve got some more expendable competition in there.

After prelims, the people working with the ballots have to order everything and announce the finalists (or quarterfinalists, semifinalists, depends on the tournament) in each category. While that goes on, you wait. And wait. And wait. And wait. And wait. And wait a lil’ more.

Until someone yells “THEY’VE POSTEEEDDDDDDD!!!!!!!!!!!” A few people will post the finalists in every category on a piece of paper taped to the wall. EVERYONE runs to their respective categories, and it’s practically a full blown speech orgy minus the whole sex element. Bodies everywhere.

frank bunch of people

You go to check, and HEY you’re a finalist! FREE FREDDY’S RIBS FOR EVERYBODY!!!!

frank happy

Now finals are a tricky little sunnuhvabitch every time you step in. There’s more randos that just come in to watch the final round, there’s always more judges than before, and it’s simply a different atmosphere. You know that there’s no gimmies here: everyone who makes it to the finals is solid competition, including…your rival.

Now with finals,

How does that translate to speech? Basically, don’t give in to anyone’s performance. If a piece is supposed to be funny, don’t let the finalist butter you and everyone else up. At most, give then a little smirk, but you should more or less do this:

If a piece is dramatic or tear jerking for members of the audience, keep your cool and don’t budge.

If you let the other players get into your head, then you’re gonna feel as if you can’t match up. You can, that’s why you made it to the final round. You need to getcha your head in the game, Zac Efron style, and keep your eyes on the prize. Basically, be Meechum.

Time for you and your focused self to get up there.

Every once in a while, you have a performance that you simply can’t describe. You know it happens when you get back to your seat and you’re like shaking because you still feel like you’re in character.

That’s when you know you went HAM and did work.

After finals, it’s all in the hands of the judges. All you can do is hope.

Finals time. Everyone gets into a big auditorium or whatever

and category by category, finalists step onto the stage and winners are announced.

You step up onto the stage yourself for your category, and it all sorta gets quiet. One by one the results come in from the judges. “In 6th place, from (insert school), (insert person).” 6th, 5th, 4th, now you start to get a little excited. 3rd, you’re still alive. 2nd comes in, it isn’t you, which means you fuckin’ won!

The way finals are scored can be a little weird. Depending on how well someone/a team did in prelims may be enough to save them in finals. For example, people can get scores of 1/1/1 in prelims, but they may not come in first overall in the final round. The winners are sometimes calculated on cumulative scores, so even if some people don’t win in that final round, they still win overall. Who needs the final round anyways, right?

Well, that’s pretty much what speech and debate is all about, and it only took a little over 2,000 words! As people say in Gaffey, “Speech is tough to learn, and tougher to master.” JK, I just fuckin’ made that up on the spot.

frank wink

Go reward yourself for making it this far by throwing a ball around with Frank himself!

Jesus Christ. Kevin Spacey: amazing actor, shitty baseball player.