In the past weeks, I have found myself at three Saturday speech events. Each was different: one was actually a workshop; the second was a novice event; and the last was a full-scale competition involving twenty-six schools, over three hundred well-dressed teenagers, and over a hundred judges.
What they had in common was no tea.
You see, a speech event requires one adult volunteer for every four competitors. These volunteers not only give up their time, but they must evaluate anywhere from two to seven young people in a round of competition. Only one of those youngsters can be ranked in first place; second through sixth places feel like losing in our trophy-driven culture; and, sadly, someone will be ranked last. Aside from this judging trauma, judges must write specific suggestions for improvement on each ballot. Any of you who have the honor of sharing time and space with a teenager know how carefully you must choose your words to avoid bruising tender egos-in-training. To further complicate matters; judges at these events rarely know any of the students they judge for six rounds on a typical Saturday. There won’t be an opportunity to debrief later. What you write on the ballot stands alone.
With this in mind, the hosts of a speech tournament take good care of judges. The judges’ lounge looks like Zabar’s Delicatessen. In the morning there are sweet rolls; muffins; bagels with all the condiments; fruit, and half a dozen two-liter boxes of Starbucks. No tea. Around lunch time, a subway sandwich the length of a first down is scored, along with forty pizzas, six enormous bags of chips, and several cases of soft drinks. No tea. In the mid-to-late afternoon, twenty dozen chocolate chip cookies and several cases of purified drinking water magically appear. (Speech coaches complain about the legendary “Speech Fifteen,” the pounds gained during the first season. Some of us gain an additional fifteen every season until we ultimately present a profile not unlike that of a double-wide mobile home .)
You guessed it: No tea. Not even a tea bag.
In just a few weeks of a very long season, I have distinguished myself at these competitions by: 1) being the only person who knew how to use booster cables; 2) alone in the how-to knowledge of tying a necktie, and; 3) the solo tea drinker.
Tell me, now that the savvy tea drinking public in the country has shifted to whole leaf brew, how long will it be before the genuine article is available at the bank and the PTA meeting?