“So, You Want to Host States, Huh?”

by Melissa Donahue, Mason High School (GMV)

 It was the eve of another OHSSL State Tournament….

 We were set to host over 1,200 competitors, coaches, and judges…. 

Teams would be arriving in less than 24 hours… Competitors were longing to talk to our walls… Only, I hadn’t made a single preparation….

I frantically awoke from a cold sweat the other night, realizing that my nightmarish dream was just that—a dream.

Fortunately, this year’s state tournament responsibilities will be dutifully executed by Alan Bates at Princeton High School, but with the State Finals returning to the Greater Miami Valley district this year, I’ve been reflecting upon my experiences as host in 2009 at Mason.

Hosting States is definitely a daunting task; however, with the right planning and resources, it doesn’t have to be a stressful, agonizing process. Here’s my recommended “Top Five” checklist to consider when beginning your preparations for hosting the State Tournament:

1)   Secure your venue(s)!

Before continuing with any further planning, it is vital that you consult your building- or district-wide scheduler about one year in advance to lock down the tournament sites.

Most high schools are unable to accommodate the entire State Tournament in one location, so keep in mind that multiple buildings may be needed. When my team hosted in 2009, we blanketed the high school campus, as well as the intermediate building across the street, and a nearby church. This early assurance of building space can be fine-tuned and tweaked as the date for States approaches, but by acquiring the space well in advance, you will certainly ease any logistical anxieties of the Executive Committee.

Then, during the fall of your hosting year, it is best to begin designating specific tournament locations within your venues—space for the opening assembly, judges’ meetings, tab rooms, judges’ hospitality rooms, concessions and merchandise tables, prep rooms, competition rooms, break-round announcement space, awards ceremony venue, etc.

2)   Plan your food and concessions early!

Let’s face it: when we wander into the judges’ room or cafeteria at States, you know that we’re all thinking the same thing—What do they have to eat? As speech and debate coaches, judges, and parents, we’re hardwired to constantly think about food at a tournament. It’s what we do.

So…the host for States better have a darn good menu, right?

My advice is based upon what worked especially well for us in 2009; however, every host approaches this a bit differently. For starters, I would recommend putting a parent or assistant coach in charge of organizing the bulk of your food/concessions responsibilities. The head coach will be burdened by so many other requests and obligations along the way, and this is not an area in which you should scrimp!

Have a designated plan for concessions in all of your venues as well as food for the judges and tab room staff. Consider using outside food vendors when possible—many will donate a percentage of sales to your team, or restaurants may be willing to offer discounts for items in exchange for vendor space in the cafeteria. Highlighting local establishments and hometown menus at your state tournament also adds a unique flair.

Planning for your food arrangements should occur months in advance, and having multiple food lines in order to avoid any bottlenecks or disgruntled guests, a variety of affordable menu items, and a large volunteer base to assist with set-up, clean-up, and sales—will ensure many content pocketbooks and bellies.

3)   Acquire a large volunteer base!

Of course, it goes without saying that the State Tournament host will need parent- and student volunteers to assist with the basics, such as your food sales, hospitality-room maintenance, and building setup and tear-down procedures; however, consider expanding upon this level of service to add your own personal touch when it comes to hospitality.

Volunteers wearing matching, coordinated shirts provide a quick and easy focal point for unfamiliar guests to your building. Furthermore, a set of greeters or guides scattered throughout the tournament venues will serve as a knowledgeable, friendly addition to your building.

Check with your school’s National Honor Society advisor or other service club advisors to attain extra help from students that are looking to pick up a few extra service hours by volunteering. Also, putting students in charge of creating signs for postings, menu items, building directions, and vendor appreciation will be a necessary help to the head coach.

4)   Don’t forget about Thursday night’s registration and coaches’ meeting!

Just as the students live for their rounds of competition, Thursday evening’s festivities are equally important to coaches and OHSSL Hall-of-Fame members.

When selecting your venue, there is no magic answer. Every host approaches this one a little differently. You may decide to host registration, the Hall of Fame reception, and the coaches’ meeting all under the comfort of your high school’s roof, or—if your budget allows—you can venture to an off-site location, such as a banquet hall.

When Mason hosted, I was fortunate enough to receive a reasonable rental rate at Great Wolf Lodge. We served appetizers, desserts, and beverages throughout the evening, but the menu selections are at the discretion of the host.

The most important detail to remember about your Thursday night planning (besides a location with wireless access) is to create a friendly atmosphere, separate from the registration tables, where coaches can mingle and socialize.

5)   Be aware of the miscellaneous responsibilities!

This final checklist encompasses a hodgepodge of advice for States, primarily focusing upon the need or the financial burden associated with these responsibilities.

Regarding expenses, find out in advance if your team must shoulder the cost of building rental fees and custodial expenses.

Are you in need of shuttle bus services, food service/cafeteria workers, campus supervisors, computer technicians, or auditorium personnel? These extra services typically come with a price tag. Be aware of your budget, and don’t be afraid to rely upon your district for extra support.

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I hope that I’ve provided some insightful advice for future State Tournament hosts. Feel free to use this checklist as a guide, and turn that nightmarish dream of hosting States into a successful reality!