WBHS will host state debate tourney for fourth consecutive year
By Caitlin Marsch, Current Staff
Days before the state debate tournament, coach Doris Sexton was deliberating with custodians rather than her speakers.
Starting Saturday, the West Bend High Schools will host the Wisconsin State Debate Tournament. Around 300 high school students from all over Wisconsin will come to West Bend for two days of competition. For those who host the tournament, it’s a lot more than just a weekend competition. Much work and preparation goes into hosting this tournament, and everybody, from coaches to custodians, gets involved.
“Most of the work happens in setting up the tournament and getting ready to have 300 kids in the building,” said John Knetzger, tournament director and assistant debate coach at the West Bend High Schools.
Knetzger said that setting the computer system up right to pair rounds and tabulate the results in the right order is time-consuming. The tabulation of data, and scheduling of the six preliminary rounds, is primarily done by computer programs. Similar to many sports, competitors with similar win-loss records are paired against each other in a round, and a numerical score determines where competitors fall within their bracket.
“Debaters receive speaker points based on how well they speak in the round, and we keep track of those, so our job is to tabulate all of that and to use that data to schedule the tournament,” Knetzger said. “Teams that are winning debate against teams that are winning, and teams that are losing debate against other teams that are losing.”
According to Doris Sexton, tournament host and WBHS debate coach, digital scheduling makes the tournament fairer.
“We have eliminated the human factor, where anyone can say ‘you get the easy round, and you get the tough round,’ because the computer doesn’t understand who’s who,” Sexton said.
As 65 rooms will be used, including both cafeterias, the custodial staff also gets involved in setup.
Usual custodial responsibilities, such as cleaning bathrooms and emptying trash, are a necessary part of the tournament. Duties also include keeping the cafeterias clean and rearranging classrooms.
“The state tournament takes more manpower because it’s Saturday and Sunday,” said Tony Groh, WBHS second shift custodial supervisor. “It runs a lot longer.”
Typical debate tournaments are on Saturdays, from morning to mid-afternoon. However, the state tournament is spread over two days, and ends much later than a normal tournament.
“With the state tournament, because it goes until 10 or 11 o’clock at night, and we have to have it all ready Saturday night to go again on Sunday, we’re typically here until midnight or so,” Groh said.
“Most of the work happens in setting up the tournament and getting ready to have 300 kids in the building.”
– John Knetzger, assistant debate coach
Normally, custodial staff must have the school ready for classes on Monday. However, this year, there’s no school on the Monday after the tournament, making the workload more manageable.
“Everything [usually] has to be cleaned and ready to go by Monday because we have school on Monday. We lucked out this year, because it runs over the same week as exams,” Groh said. “We have it a little bit easier now, because there’s no school on Monday.”
According to Doris Sexton, their effort doesn’t go unnoticed.
“I have never walked into this building and thought it needed mopping, or sweeping, or anything,” Sexton said. “They are on the ball.”
However, even with all of the work involved, the tournament doesn’t always run seamlessly.
“During the weekend it’s a lot of effort to keep things moving smoothly,” Knetzger said. “Keeping everyone moving on schedule is really critical. It doesn’t take too many people getting behind for the entire tournament to start to lag.”
“The worst problems happen during the tournament as we have a wide variety of goof-ups, but it’s not the computer or scheduling,” Sexton said. “It’s people not doing what they’re supposed to do. It holds up rounds and keeps us here.”
The state tournament has been hosted at WBHS for the past four years. It was previously hosted at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and before that, Ripon College. Sexton says that there’s advantages to hosting it at a high school rather than a college campus.
“You’re dealing with one building instead of kids and judges walking from building to building, and the end of January in Wisconsin means that it’s going to be a little chilly,” Sexton said. “It’s slightly easier here when you’ve only got two floors to deal with, and the furthest anybody has to walk is upstairs and downstairs, as opposed to crossing campus.”
(Top image: A member of the WBHS custodial staff stands by equipment after the Jan. 13 debate tournament. Photo by Caitlin Marsch, Current Staff.)