Parent FAQ's

Welcome parents! Communication and safety are two of the most important aspects for ensuring that your children have a positive debate experience. If you are curious about what your children are involved in, go to our Why do Speech and Debate page. If you are looking for information on your child's whereabouts on a tournament weekend you can find tournament trip sheets on our page. PLEASE READ the "What can you do as a parent?" list below and the "Parent FAQ's" section for further information.

What can you do as a parent to help the program/team/your student?

  1. Work with our Parent Organization. If you would like to volunteer your time or gain more information about these parent organizations please email Mr. Vinson or Mr. Weston and they will direct you to the relevant parties.
  2. Please please please volunteer at the New Trier Season Opener and other Speech and Debate tournaments we may host. You will help us raise money to provide opportunities for your students in New Trier Speech and Debate.
  3. Pick your students up. Many practices/meetings will happen during the school day but if your child needs to stay after to work on something, please make sure your child does not have to worry about getting home. Carpool with other parents if need be, but it would be unfortunate if students did not stay after because they were worried about getting home.
  4. Communicate! Call. Email. Visit. But ask questions whether they are about traveling, practices, summer camp, ask questions before the last minute!
  5. Support your students! They are engaging in a competitive academic activity!

General Questions

What is the difference between Policy, Public Forum, Lincoln Douglas and Congressional Debate? A brief description of each of these different debate events can be found on our " Why do Speech and Debate " page.

How much does it cost to compete in forensics?
Students pay a portion of their hotel and travel costs but New Trier covers all entry and judge fees. If the cost is prohibitive, students and/or parents should have an individual conversation with Mr. Vinson or Mr. Weston. There are opportunities for students and their families to receive assistance.

Does my child need a laptop?
If your child is a policy debater, the short answer is yes. Policy debaters debate "paperlessly" meaning all of their arguments are brought up on the computer. The school has a certain amount of laptops to help make the team paperless. While it is strongly encouraged for debaters to own their own laptop, if that is not possible, debaters should discuss this with Mr. Vinson or Mr. Weston. If your child is not a policy debater but are involved in Lincoln Douglas, Public Forum, Congress, or Individual Events, they do not currently need a laptop.

Tournament/Travel Related Questions

How come my child doesn't travel as much as someone else's child?
Different types of Speech and Debate travel a different tournament schedule. For example, policy debate probably has the most exhaustive, travel-intensive schedule. Additional factors like seniority also come into play. If a student is confused about why they are not traveling as much, they should have a private conversation with Mr. Vinson or Mr. Weston.

How do debaters choose which tournaments to attend?
Debaters work with coaches and teachers to decide which tournaments to attend. Freshman/first year debaters have a set group of tournaments they can attend - tournaments that offer a "novice" division, or debates only against other first year debaters. Debaters who have at least one year of experience and have attended debate camp are urged to attend tournaments that will help them grow, tournaments that they will be competitive at, and tournaments that will be good experience for them as they progress in the program.

Are the debaters given recommendations for how many tournaments to choose per month/semester?
To fill class obligations for students taking the course as a major (Policy must take course as major, other events elect to take the course as a major) students must attend two tournaments a semester. Students are often suggested to attend a certain amount of tournaments a month to fufill their outstanding obligations. Students who are not worried about fulfilling obligations but are anxious to improve themselves and compete, should try to attend at least one tournament a month.

Please explain what the TOC is, which tournaments give TOC bids and how they are determined and why these matter (if they do at all).
The TOC stands for the Tournament of Champions, a national invitational hosted by the University of Kentucky during the last weekend of April. In order to attend the TOC debates need to have two TOC "bids". Bids are marks of accomplishment that students can earn through their performance at various national tournaments. Bids are usually established at a certain level of success. For example, the New Trier Season Opener tournament is quarterfinals bid in Policy debate, meaning that all the teams that make the quarterfinals receive one bid to the TOC. These bids are determined at the beginning of the year by a group of coaches on the TOC committee. The TOC is regarded by most national circuit (or debaters who frequently travel nationally) as the hardest and most distinguished of the national tournaments.

Is there any difference between attending local vs. national tournaments in the big picture?
Yes. As explained in the question about how debaters choose what tournaments to attend, debaters should try to have a balance of local and national tournaments. Attending all local tournaments might not challenge a debater or set a debater up to be experienced enough over a four year career in New Trier Speech and Debate. However, attending all national tournaments likely isn't possible and would be extremely expensive. Thus, a balance is suggested.

How far in advance do you plan the trips?
The schedule for debate tournaments rarely changes drastically from year to year. At the beginning of the school year students receive the year's tournament schedule as well as semester commitment sheets for their specific debate events. Once students turn those in, they will be registered for tournaments and must attend the tournaments they have committed to.

How far in advance can we know the cost/plans for the trip?
Trip sheets are usually posted two weeks before a departure. Trip sheets are posted on our page . Trip sheets always have the cost of said tournament. With the new online payment system, students must pay before attending a tournament and the "item" to be paid for is posted online about a month before the tournament with the price and basic information. The web store can be accessed by clicking "Online Payments" from the main page at the top then "Speech and Debate" from the sidebar on the left and then clicking on the specific item/tournament.

Can you break down the airfare/hotels for parents on the trip sheets?
No. We don't do this because students always have to travel with the team and stay with the team. We don't want students trying to find other airfare or alternative hotel arrangements. Perhaps an individual search could produce cheaper options but we do a pretty good job finding the best option for the 30 or so people that sometimes attend large tournament.

How do you handle it if someone can't pay?
This is addressed on a case by case basis. Individuals should discuss this with Mr. Vinson and Mr. Weston as soon as possible.

Student Improvement/Coaching Questions

How do students receive feedback (from coaches and teachers)?
Coaches and teachers will often hear practice debates during class/after school or hear speech redos (regiving a speech from a previous tournament). In that case, coaches and teachers give direct verbal feedback to student and sometimes email students their typed up comments. At tournaments, students always have judges who give them verbal feedback and/or written ballots that explain why the judges voted a certain way as well as suggestions for improvement. Students are strongly urged to write down verbal feedback from coaches/judges.

Do coaches/teachers watch students at tournaments?
Rarely. We are usually either judging other competitors or getting food for judges/coaches/students or other administrative tasks if not judging. Additionally, many students become more nervous if their audience is large. Occasionally coaches will observe debates in order to provide additional feedback. Some event categories are less friendly to audiences than others.

How do students/competitors know what to work on?
After every debate students usually debrief with a coach about what happened and discuss what to work on and how to do so. If students do not know what to improve on based on judge feedback they should ask that judge. If students do not know how to improve a specific skill they should ask coaches/teachers.

Debate Camp Questions

What is speech or debate camp?
Every summer there are institutes held at various college campuses. These camps are taught by college and high school coaches and are a great way for students to learn about the topic(s) for the following year and improve their skills. For serious competitive speakers/debaters, camp is a must. Students interested in reaching a higher level of competition should seriously consider attending a summer institute.

Is it necessary to attend camp?
Attending camp is not a requirement for continuing in the class but it is strongly recommended. See below.

What is the value of going to debate camp?
Consider the math behind debate camp. Classes are 40 minutes. 5 classes a week would be 200 minutes. Let's round down to 180 minutes or 3 hours to account for all the shortened weeks and late arrival early releases and all that. There are 40 weeks of school so a given year is 120 hours of instructional time. Obviously this doesn't consider distractions, unengaged peers, individual time with the instructor, etc. Debate camps usually have about, say 10 hours of debate a day. We will calculate it on a 6 day week because sometimes they have Sunday mornings off or fun excursions. So 60 hours a week. 2 week camps would be 120 hours. I usually recommend 3 week camps which would be 180 hours. Last year everyone who attended camp went to 3 weeks or more. So 2 weeks roughly equals 1 year of instructional time. From an educational stand point, that's a huge difference. Students and their families should find the right camp, cost, and time commitment that fits their goals.

Do you provide camp recommendations for students?
Yes. In January we start the process of looking at summer camps. We meet with the student and we discuss costs and where the best fit would be.

Course/Academic Related Questions
Can you explain the Speech and Debate curriculum?

"Freshman Debate" focuses on policy debate in the first semester and the three additional forms of debate in the second semester. With the advice of their freshman instructor, students choose from three courses at the Winnetka Campus. "Speech & Debate: Congress", "Speech & Debate: Lincoln Douglas", and "Speech & Debate: Policy." All three classes may be repeated for credit during Junior, and Senior year. "Speech & Debate: Congress" and "Speech & Debate: Lincoln Douglas" may be taken for minor or major credit. "Speech & Debate: Policy" can only be taken for major credit.

What is the difference between taking the class for minor or major credit?
Students taking the class for Major credit have a set of requirements that includes attending a minimum of two tournaments a semester, fulfilling a service opportunity each semester, and fulfilling classroom leadership roles. Students taking the class for Minor credit do not have tournament or service requirements but are expected to complete all of the same class assignments.

Do freshman have to compete?
Freshmen are not required to participate in competitions but they are provided with many opportunities to compete and participate in workshops and competitions and may be invited to travel and compete with the team.

What if a student has obligations on the weekend? Do all competitions occur on weekends?
The majority of competitions are on weekends. For beginners there are sometimes one or two tournaments that might occur mid week. Just because students may have conflicts on some weekends should not dissuade them from continuing in Speech and Debate but at some point they need to meet the course requirements.

Does how well a student performs at a tournament implicate their grade?
No. Tournament attendance is the most important factor for that tournament grade.

Debate and College Questions

Is participation in High School Speech and Debate well respected by colleges?
Yes. To varying degrees. Some schools will actually have Speech and Debate questions (usually yes/no) on their applications! In terms of admissions, the event category students compete in in high school is not as significant as the commitment that participating in such an activity.

How can students make their high school debate time meaningful for college?
If the goal is admissions, see above. If the goal is participating in college debate, see below.

What debate events are most common in college?
National Collegic debate is almost entirely policy debate. Some colleges now have Parliamentary Debate (a type of debate that high schools do not have since it is not a recognized event by the National Forensic League). Collegic policy debate is similar to high school policy debate while Parliamentary debate is not similar to any other debate event.

Do you provide college counseling for debaters?
By appointment. If students are interested in exploring how debate can help them in college, they should schedule an individual appointment since each student is unique and will have a specific set of circumstances. We have done this before and seen students go on to debate programs at UT-Dallas, Wake Forest, Northwestern, Cornell, Michigan State, Emory and others.

How do coach recommendations/contacts at colleges figure in?
This varies. See above. Most contacts are not miracle workers. If students are close or within the realm of reason, contacts can sometimes be that last little push.

Are there debate scholarships?
Yes. But they are rarely full rides. There are a few schools that can offer full rides or get students in-state tuition but these scholarships are highly competitive. While scholarships are not impossible to land, debate is much better as an admissions aid then a financial aid. ​