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Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?

Episode 159

To Whom it May Concern

     They sit at the dinner table chez Nutmilk. Chesney's fingers are poised at the keyboard of his mother's laptop. Amnea has four tournament invitations spread out in front of her from other venues. Tarnish Jutmoll is sitting back in his chair, sipping at a decaffeinated espresso.

     "'Dear…' who?" Amnea asks.

     "I see we're beginning at the beginning," Tarnish says.

     "Well, these four all start differently. 'Dear Coaches,' 'Dear Debaters,' 'Dear Coaches and Students,' and 'Dear Forensicians.'"

     "'Forensicians'?" Tarnish echoes.

     "How about 'To Whom it May Concern'?" Chesney asks.

     "Sounds like a last will and testament," Tarnish says. "In the south, they sometimes start off with 'Howdy.' Or maybe, 'Howdy, Y'All.'"

     "This isn't the south," Amnea says. "Thank God."

     "We could start with something like 'Yo,'" Chesney says. "That's pure New York. Yo. Or maybe, 'Watch yer back!' That's even more New York."

     "I think 'Yo Homeys' might set the tone you're looking for," his mother replies. "But I don't think that's exactly the tone I'm trying to get."

     "Nobody ever went wrong with coaches and students," Tarnish says, putting down his espresso cup. "It's democratic, but with an appropriate air of respect for authority."

     "A sort of democratic oligarchic sort of thing," Chesney says, typing.


     "Then what?" Amnea asks.

     "Well, then you want to get the facts out as quickly as possible," Tarnish says. "The average debate coach doesn't get all that much mail, so it's not a question of them noticing you so much as it's a question of their getting the facts straight."

     "Why wouldn't they get the facts straight? These other invitations seem very clear to me," Amnea says.

     "You are a publisher, my dear, an editor. You have some investment in the printed word."

     "And you're telling me that debate coaches don't?"

     "Well, they do, of course, but they don't seem to abide by it. I mean, they're really good at getting things wrong. The wrong dates, the wrong times, the wrong events, the wrong amount of money."

     Amnea shakes her head. "I'm appalled."

     Tarnish shrugs. "It's part of the territory," he says. "The thing is, the coaches are all teachers, and this is their night job, and they're already stressed enough on their day job, half of them, and their real interest in forensics is the activity itself, not the paperwork, and maybe there's also a factor in that organization is just not built into their personalities. For whatever reason, the teaching mindset does not equate with the organizational mindset. Be happy that they just show up at all."

     "So what do I say here then?" she asks.

     "Say that the Bisonette Technical Debate Team is proud to invite them to the Monadnock Tournament on such and such a date, then say what activities you're having."

     Chesney begins typing. "What activities are we having, anyway?" he asks.

     "Well, Varsity LD and Policy divisions, of course. After that, I don't know. It would be nice to have a novice Policy division."

     "I'd rather have a novice LD division," Chesney says.

     "By January there isn't much left in the way of novice LDers anymore, but the nature of Policy does really support them as a separate entity. They couldn't debate Varsity if their lives depended on it. Novice LDers blend into an open field more easily."

     "We already agreed to only one division of each," Amnea says. "That's the trophies I'm getting."

     Tarnish nods. "We could always get Mr. Apo to make more trophies, but let's stick with that. We don't want to expand it until we're sure we can get it off the ground. We'll wait till next year."

     Chesney does some typing.

     "The next thing these invitations cover is registration" Amnea says, thumbing through them. "Each one seems to have some arcane rules about when and where and how to get the information in."

     "Registration is the biggest nightmare of a tournament," Jutmoll says. "Short of the tournament itself, of course."


     "Well, get back to that teacher slash coach mindset again. Then throw in what we'll call the adolescent mindset." He turns to Amnea's son. "No offense, Chesney."

     "None taken," the boy replies.

     "But the thing is, if you think that coaches are disorganized by nature, throw in the fact that what they're trying to organize is teenagers. Getting teenagers to commit, getting them to sign up, getting them to show up. It's like a jellyfish trying to herd barracuda."

     "But all these registrations are so complicated that you have to be organized to get them right!"

     "No. They're complicated so that everybody thinks that there's some horrible penalty for disorganization. First off, you have a cut-off date for registration. No registrations after this date. This means that about fifty percent of your signer-uppers will register before that date, and the other fifty percent will arrive exactly on the date. Which, by the way, is usually a week before the event itself."

     "So that gives you a week to enter the data into the computer," Chesney says.

     "Not at all," Tarnish Jutmoll says.


     "But none of the data you get by the registration date is accurate."

     "None of it?" Amnea asks, her jaw dropping.

     "Well, practically none of it. Between the coaches getting it wrong, and the debaters signing up and not signing up and dropping in and dropping out, what you end up with is a rough approximation of which schools are coming, and how many teams they'll be bringing. Which is about all you can hope for a week in advance, and which is enough for you to begin finalizing your housing and food issues."

     "So what should we say, then?" Amnea asks.

     "Have the registration close the Wednesday the week before the tournament."

     Chesney finds the date, and begins typing.

     "Then we tell them that there's no changes after the Wednesday the week of the tournament, and that's when all fees are set."

     Chesney types some more.

     "Then we tell them we fine them twenty dollars a change at the registration table the day of the tournament, according to the acknowledged debate Council of Trent Rules and Penalties System."

     "Council of Trent?" Amnea asks. "Really?"

     "Really. Then you tell them how to register," Tarnish says.

     "How should they register?" Amnea asks.

     "Well, the easiest thing is that they email you, but you'd be surprised how many coaches are not all that computer literate."

     "That too? You're kidding!"

     "Well, a lot of them only get access to computers at school, for one thing, and a lot of schools still haven't gotten their cyberacts together. Home computers are expensive, you know, for people on a teacher's salary, and the coaches tend to be the philosophical politico types, not the matheletes. It's not a natural fit."

     "So what do they do, then?" Amnea asks.

     "They fax. For teachers, faxing is the Holy Grail, the end-all be-all of technological wisdom."

     "I hate faxes," Amnea says. "They're a week past mimeograph machines."

     "Half of these teachers still use mimeos," Tarnish says.

     "You're kidding!"

     "They use 'em in our school for tests," Chesney says.

     "I'm appalled."

     "Get the school board to raise your local taxes," Tarnish says. "Then you can get all the fancy equipment you want."

     "Touché. I see your point."

     "Thank you. So we put in all the email and faxing info -- you can fax to your office, right?"

     "To the office. Definitely."

     "Then we need to set the fees."

     "How much?" Chesney asks.

     "The fees are all over the place on these tournaments," Amnea says, thumbing through her pile. "How do you figure what the fees should be?"

     "Good question," Tarnish replies. "The thing is, there's no really set fee. There's a sort of what-the-market will bear attitude. For a real local tournament with no Combat of Conquerors limb, maybe ten or fifteen dollars a head. Twenty, if you're going overnight, like you are. That would be fair."

     "Some of these charge a lot more than that," Amnea says.

     "COC tournaments are in that twenty to thirty dollar a head range, if they're still basically regional. If they draw from out of the region, say like Gladecreek in Chicago, they can charge a lot more. And colleges, they're the worst. They charge a fortune. At Harvard, the only thing that makes more money than running their annual high school tournament is starting your own dot com."

     "Where does the money go?"

     "Same place for everyone: back into the team. You know how much going to tournaments costs, not so much for registrations per se but for travel and lodging. It all adds up pretty quickly."

     "So for all practical purposes," Chesney says, "the tournament system is a way for teams to launder money. I mean, our team gets money from the school, we give that money to other schools, then other schools come and give it back to us, so that we can give it back to them."

     "Sounds good to me," Tarnish says.

     "Twenty dollars," Amnea announces. "That's what we'll charge, COC or no COC. We were COC once, and we'll be COC again. Plus it's overnight, and we're feeding people. Twenty bucks."

     "Twenty bucks it is," Chesney says, doing some more typing. "This thing is coming together," he says.

     "The next thing you have to tell people is that you'll feed them Friday night and Saturday lunch. And that you'll house them."

     "How do I house them?"

     "I'll work with you on that. The thing is, get them to sign up for housing when they register. Tell them housing is limited, first come first served. That usually puts the fear of God into them."

     "Got it," Chesney says.

     "And you'll need a place for the coaches to stay. You'll have to list the motels around here."

     "There's motels around here?" Chesney asks.

     "Of course there's motels," his mother says. "Somewhere. I think."

     "There's motels," Tarnish says. "They're not the Ritz. They're not even Motel 6. But they're here."

     Amnea goes to the kitchen counter, under which is a phone book. She consults the Yellow Pages. "In Stockwood there are three motels: an EconoHovel, Ma's, and the Silken Pussycat."

     "Forget the Silken Pussycat," Tarnish says. "You can list the other two."

     "If you go out of town a little bit, there's others," Amnea continues. "Like the Cozy Cot near the mall."

     "List them too. People will have cars or buses. These places are small and they fill up fast."

     "I wonder what Ma's is like?" Chesney asks.

     "It's no Silken Pussycat, but at least you don't have to bring your own soap," Tarnish says.

     "The next thing we need to figure out is the judge requirements," Amnea says, sitting down again.

     "One to four LD, one to two Policy. That's real liberal for the teams, and we'll hire some college kids to take up the slack. If we make it too stringent, we can have problems."

     "Got it," Chesney says.

     "All of these have some sort of driving directions to get to them, which is easy enough," Amnea says. "We can do that later. The other big thing seems to be the schedule. They all have schedules. What do we do about that?"

     "When does school get out?" Tarnish asks Chesney.

     "Around two-fifteen."

     "Then let's plan to start at three. When means registration at the school from one to two. Second round at four-thirty. Dinner from six to seven. Third round at seven, housing at nine."

     "That's very efficient," Amnea says.

     "And it's about as likely as Bill Clinton passing through the eye of a needle, but it's a worthy goal."

     "What about Saturday?" Chesney asks.

     "First round at eight, second round at ten-thirty, break rounds at one until done. That you'll probably be able to keep to."

     "Great!" Amnea says.

     "And that's about it," Tarnish says. "The thing is getting people to come, and getting the invitation to them. I'll give you my mailing list. And of course we'll post on the debate listservers."

     Chesney is typing away.

     "Why don't you print up what you've got so far and we'll start editing it?" his mother says.

     "First pass coming up," Chesney says. "I'll use the printer in my room." He copies the file to a disk. "I'll be right back."

     "I'm starting to get a feeling that I've taken on something big here," Amnea Nutmilk says to Tarnish Jutmoll after Chesney heads to his room.

     "A tournament is never easy," he says. "No matter how big or small."

     "At least you're there to help me with it," she says, patting his hand.

     He smiles. And he thinks to himself, she could have a hundred of the most experienced coaches in the world helping her and still all hell could break loose and no one might know what to do about it. For that is the nature of tournaments.

     Welcome to the Bahamas.

Will anyone show up at the Mondadnock?

Will the coaches be able to figure out the invitation?

Is the election over yet?

What was that one about Benjamin Harrison again?

If Al Gore falls in the forest and no one is there, does he make a noise?

Imagine you're Aaron Burr in our next episode: "Vice President? We don't have no Vice President. We don't need no Vice President. We don't have to show you any stinkin' Vice President!"

Go to the next episode due Dec 6, 2000.