Reflections on the benefits of the 2017 NCFL Grand National Tournament

by Marie Wetzel, Head Coach, Whitmer High School (Tarhe Trails)

As a first-year coach in the Fall of 2013, joining the world of Speech and Debate seemed much like being a first-year teacher, what with all of the acronyms that rolled easily off the tongues of the experienced—as my team just tried to remember which ones stood for our events.

So when I was introduced to yet another acronym (“NCFL”), I initially blew it off as something I could learn about later. After all, as a new coach with a new team, I still thought that qualifying for OHSSL State Finals was the pinnacle for which we aimed to achieve. After qualifying a student (to States) my first two years—with the second qualification being through a “Bigs” final round—I decided that perhaps it was time to look further into what the world of Speech and Debate had to offer.

I had heard grumblings that the National Catholic Forensic League’s (NCFL) Grand National Tournament “isn’t a real Nationals” or worth my time, yet my experience has been that the tournament is what you make of it. Personally, I offer the opportunity to compete at “NCFL” only to those on my team who absolutely have proven that they deserve to be there. For my team, that means (at minimum) success throughout the season and State-qualification, as well as successful achievement of various team expectations related to behavior and teamwork.

While I have found that not everyone in the country shares my perspective, I have also found that the NCFL tournament provides a variety of challenging experiences for competitors. In fact, this year’s 2017 NCFL Grand National Tournament—fondly referred to as “CatNats”—was an amazing example of such opportunities. Each of my qualifiers represents a different way in which NCFL can benefit competitors.

“While I have found that not everyone in the country shares my perspective, I have also found that the NCFL tournament provides a variety of challenging experiences for competitors.”

Seniors Cecilia Caputo and Juliana Janatowski have been with me since my first year as head coach; in many ways, we have learned together. While their original career goal was to qualify for States in Public Forum, they discovered Policy Debate the beginning of their senior year and wondered why they hadn’t competed in that event all along. Their hope was to qualify for NSDA Nationals in Policy, but after a tough loss at Bigs, they ended up first alternates with NSDA just out of reach.

Although they will both be debating on the district’s World Schools team (at NSDA Nationals), CatNats was a chance for them to end their careers in Policy at a national tournament, and to experience some of the more extreme shenanigans that Policy Debate has to offer…one last time. According to Cecilia, “I was happy to have CatNats be the last tournament where Juliana and I could compete [in Policy Debate] because we were able to compete with people at the same skill level as ourselves, and to compete against some of the cases we had hoped to see all year.”

Junior Seth Ramm was a quick study his sophomore year and found success quickly as he worked hard in International Extemp, qualifying to NSDA in Birmingham this summer. For Seth, CatNats was a fantastic bridge to NSDA. He was able to compete against some/many of the other “Extempers” whom he may face in June, and both he and we coaches were able to get 15 critique sheets from judges across the country who provided valuable feedback in our preparation for NSDA just a few weeks later.

Seth explained that “the diversity of judges and judging styles helped me improve overall to become more well rounded and to prepare for NSDA.” As we prepare for NSDA, Seth’s Octo-finalist finish at NCFL has motivated him to work even harder than usual, and it has given him a focus toward what he needs to improve at the NSDA Nationals level.

“[B]oth he and we coaches were able to get 15 critique sheets from judges across the country who provided valuable feedback in our preparation for NSDA just a few weeks later.”

Freshmen Kate Inman and Michelle Zheng, a team formed in January (after I finally convinced them that they were misplaced in Public Forum and Congress respectively) comprised my final entry in Policy Debate.  While they quickly fell in love with Policy and did well within our district, NSDA wasn’t an option due to an unplanned trip to Spain; also, five weeks wasn’t quite enough time for them to learn Policy to the extent they needed to perform at States the way they had hoped. Although this team went into CatNats with low expectations, they knew the competition they would face would be tough, and they prepped accordingly.

We coaches went into this tournament simply hoping to give this pairing some competition from which they could learn (as we prepare for three more years of debate). In the end, they were our surprise; although they didn’t break, they ended the tournament with a 2-3 record, splitting the ballots on all three loss rounds. And that wasn’t their only “win.” They learned more than we had hoped, getting to both debate against some great national teams and observe break rounds, which allowed them to sit with coaches during Finals and jot down ideas for next year’s topic.

My competitors this year came out of CatNats energized and ready to work even harder than they had been leading up to the tournament. For the seniors and for Seth, this means preparation for Birmingham. The freshmen already are hard at work for next year, and have voluntarily attended our three-to-five-hour-long Nationals’ practices while everything they learned and experienced is fresh in their minds.

“My competitors this year came out of CatNats energized and ready to work even harder than they had been leading up to the [NSDA] tournament.”

It should be noted that our team wasn’t the only one from Western Ohio who left Louisville with success. The Wauseon High School Duo team of Colton Blanton and Christian Cantu, as well as Notre Dame Academy’s Maddy Vesoulis—who competed in Original Oratory—were both Quarter-Finalists at this year’s “NCFL CatNats” tournament and should be congratulated, as well. #