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A&M Consolidated High School Coach Roy Rodriguez and his students presented a study report on behalf of UIL at national topic selection meeting in New Orleans this summer.
A&M Consolidated High School Coach Roy Rodriguez and his students presented a study report on behalf of UIL at national topic selection meeting in New Orleans this summer.

"My Happy Place." - Jana Riggins.

Finding Your Happy Place: Start of School Brings New Energy and New Material

By Jana Riggins, Speech and Debate Director | Tuesday, September 15, 2015 11:50 AM

Graham on his first day of school
Graham grins ear-to-ear as he gets ready to start his school career.

Following an unexpected downpour of rain last evening causing me to linger long on my back porch – my personal “happy place” – to take in the sound, smell and satisfaction of refreshing nourishment for the earth, I was reminded of how the start of each school year refreshes us. The new creative lesson plans you’ve developed over the summer to engage your students. The fresh faces you see filing into your classroom, full of expectation for your course, and the joy of seeing former students who drop in for a hug and a quick catch-up visit with you. The back-to-routine schedule that actually does feel comfortable, even if you don’t enjoy hearing that early morning alarm.

If you’re having difficultly feeling invigorated by these scenarios, just take one look at the face of this kindergartener going to school for the first time…every single day for two full weeks this little red-headed guy would tell me with great enthusiasm and a huge grin exactly how many days it was until his very first day of school. He could hardly contain his excitement! 

And, although you don’t teach the youngest of students, rest assured there are middle school and high school students just as anxious to return to your classroom, and especially to your speech team. The squad is “family.” It’s where acceptance is found. It’s where kids discover who they really are and where they find self-worth. It’s your team’s “happy place.”

Thank you for being that special educator that gives extra effort and time to develop the whole child. Avenues for maturing your students are provided by UIL activities, especially speech, debate and congress. Here’s what’s happening in each of them this season.

Congress is already in gear. Your school’s Intent to Participate form should have been submitted by Aug. 15. If you did not register but want to participate, contact the Clerk for your ESC District posted on the UIL Congress webpage to request approval for late entry. If granted by the District Committee, it is critical that you submit the online Intent form promptly so the District and State Office is aware of your participation.

In it’s third year as a UIL contest, Congress rules now require each participating school to submit a minimum of one piece of congressional legislation for the district meet. The district committee will review the legislation and determine if it is accepted for contest. In preparation for the mandatory submission, we have taught workshops at Capital Conference and the Student Activities Conferences for the past two years. Additional guidance is offered online with samples of legislation included in the Overview of Congress document and the PowerPoint entitled “Writing Effective Legislation” and in our annual study packet available for purchase. We will continue to present workshops at all the fall conferences this season.

Check out the rest of the deadlines for Congress posted online. District competitions will be conducted Nov. 2-14 with the State Meet occurring Jan. 11-13 in Austin.

Policy debate is off and running with the yearlong resolution: Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially curtail its domestic surveillance. Texas is a true leader in Cross-Examination Debate and was represented strongly at the national topic selection meeting held in New Orleans this summer. Participating in the process of developing topics for next season included: Russell Kirkscey, Blanco HS; Chad Flisowski, Galveston: Ball HS; Fanny Flisowski; Gay Hollis, Katy: Taylor HS; Eric Pillai and Alena Kang-Landsberg, students from College Station: A&M Consolidated HS; Bill Schuetz, Gregory-Portland HS; Dr. Rich Edwards, Baylor University; David Gardiner, Corpus Christi: King HS; Larry McCarty, Bellville. Presenting a study report on behalf of the University Interscholastic League was Roy Rodriguez and his students from A&M Consolidated HS. Chairing the Wording Committee was Racy Grant from Prosper High School and I served as the Texas voting delegate.

Five problem areas were selected for the initial national ballot. These include: China, Treaties, India, Export Controls and Asian Pacific Rim. Visit our Debate webpage for expanded discussion and wordings of the potential resolutions on each problem area.  Discuss with your debaters and then submit your first ballot online no later than October 15. Once the list is narrowed to two topics, a second ballot will determine the topic for the 2016-17 season.

Along with the selection process, a business meeting is held where recommendations from the debate group are forwarded to the National Speech Advisory Committee. An item of interest to our debate coaches is the consideration to pilot for one year mandating the use of an international agent within the policy resolution. I’d be interested in hearing feedback from you. Stay tuned for additional discussion in the Leaguer about the use of an international actor.

Although our state doesn’t restrict the cases that novice CXers have to research in order to compete on the circuit, many states institute this process in an effort for students new to policy debate to have the opportunity to become proficient and well-versed in the topic without being overwhelmed with the volume of research their initial year of CX debate. It also accentuates more in-depth argumentation and analysis within rounds for novice debaters. Some implement it to enhance recruitment of students to debate. Selected novice cases for other states this season include: 1) Pass the proposed USA Freedom Act to limit NSA surveillance. This proposal would end NSA bulk collection of telephone metadata, appoint a privacy advocate to appear before the FISA court, limit the PRISM database (which now collects Internet data) and allow US companies more leeway in disclosing orders they receive from the federal government. 2) Limit the FBI’s use of entrapment and use of informants in Muslim communities. 3) Limit immigration enforcement by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) using home and workplace raids, much as President Obama has proposed to do in his Executive Order – an Order that has been “stayed” by US Federal District Judge Hanen. Most court observers believe that the appeal of Judge Hanen’s ruling will take a long time, leading to an interesting public debate on the wisdom of aggressive immigration enforcement. 4) Limit the government’s use of drone surveillance.

The CX Debate State tournaments are scheduled for March 14-15 (1-2-3A) and March18-19 (4-5-6A) at The University of Texas in Austin. Because of other events being hosted in the Capitol City at that time, coaches are urged to make hotel reservations now! The hotel survey conducted by UIL last season revealed that coaches who made their reservations at the opening of the school year were able to secure reasonable rates comparable to other cities. If your school does not advance to state, then promptly release your reservation following the district meet.

LD debaters will have a great fall topic to debate:  RESOLVED: When in conflict, an individual's right of self-determination ought to be valued above public health concerns. This topic will be used from September through December. The spring topic debated at district meets will not be released until mid-December, prior to the winter break.

Prose and Poetry readers, categories are in their third and final year of the cycle. However, be aware that there have been some small changes in Category B of Prose. As you review the category descriptors with your students, draw attention to any words in all capital letters. Caps indicate the changes for 2015-16. One you will note in Category B of Prose is the word “literary” modifying the required types of sources. This is to clarify that students should use literature, not encyclopedia-type web sources for the selections they include in their reading. Last year, some contestants constructed programs that incorporated websites such as “” to count for one of their literary sources. Those are not literary works. Another clarification written into the descriptor is blogs are not allowed.

The Helpful Checklists for Documentation have been updated so use the latest ones in the 2015-16 Prose and Poetry Handbook. In terms of documentation, a question people often ask is “If a poem is found on that a student wishes to use for Category A (instead of Category B, which is the actual Poetry Foundation category), and the website designates where the poem is printed, will that be adequate documentation to prove the poem is published?” The answer is “no.” In and of itself, that isn’t adequate because it simply lists the title of the source. What it does not indicate is whether or not that source is hard copy (required by Category A). It possibly could be an online source. So, go a step farther and research the source given on the website to provide definitive proof that the source is hard copy. Combine that proof with a printout of the details found on Together, they can provide sufficient documentation required for Category A of Poetry.

I hope students will seek to embody the significance of Category A of Prose this season. The “Inspiring My Journey” category is designed to explore heroes and survivors – significant survival situations where the human spirit was required to rise to unique heights. Reading a selection about “surviving” a blind date or disasters at the senior prom are performances that minimize the true intent and impact of Prose, Category A. They simply miss the boat. Strive to inspire your audience with the significant things that humans can achieve or overcome when challenged to great heights.

Poetry readers also have sometimes missed the boat on Category A. Entitled “Journey Through Time” for a reason, it requires you to develop a program around a specific decade or a social or political movement. It is critical to understand what a movement actually is. Movement is defined as a series of organized activities working toward an objective or an organized effort to promote or attain an end. Look for how literature has defined a decade, as the voices of many are catapulted to prominence through the poetry that erupts with a message for the era. Your social studies teacher could be a valuable resource as you begin your search into different movements that have occurred throughout history.

Extemporaneous speakers are given five topics drawn in the UIL tournament preparation room, unlike some forensic tournaments that only allow you to draw three topics. Contestants should prepare for major issues from Texas as well as the national and international scene. Expect topic areas to include economics, education, foreign policy, medical/health, military, political, science and technology, as well as social issues. Geographical regions include Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, the United States as well as topics that are not specific to one region but are global in nature. Topics are posted regularly on the Extemporaneous Speaking webpage for you to use in practice rounds as well as in building your files.

The League provides tremendous resources for coaches and students as you compete in debate, congress and oral interpretation. There are contest manuals revised annually and study packets available in digital and hard copy format, along with DVD’s of previous state rounds of debate and extemporaneous speaking. Visit our online store. Each contest also has a designated webpage with resources and important information. UIL staffs travel to four regional sites this fall providing free conference workshops conducted by state contest directors and some of the best coaches in our state, along with demonstrations by last year’s state champions. We hope your school will take advantage of these and attend the one in your area: Tyler (Sept. 12), Lubbock (Sept 19), Austin (Oct. 31) and Huntsville (Nov. 7). Check the Student Activities Conference link online for additional details and programming. No cost. No registration required.

I hope your excitement equals that of kindergartener Graham Logan and that competition in UIL speech, debate and congress puts you in a “happy place”, keeping you feeling inspired and loving academic achievement throughout the entire school year. The UIL staff is here to help make it the best for you and your squad!  Signing off from MY “happy place” …