‘I’ve seen worse’

By Daris Howard
Special to The PREVIEW
My daughter asked me if I would judge at a debate tournament.
“I’ve never even been to a debate tournament,” I replied.
“It’s OK,” she said. “They’ll train you. Besides, the most important part of judging is to give the students information about what you feel they can do better. If you just give them points and don’t say why you scored them the way you did, it will mean nothing.”
She said every student was asked to provide a judge for one of the tournaments, and I could choose which one I went to. I looked at the tournament schedule and determined one that would work for me.
On the appointed day, I went to the designated high school. All of the judges met in one room, and we were given some training. By the time I received my first assignment, I still felt totally unprepared.
For my first judging round, the students helped me understand what was supposed to happen. I found both teams to be quite equal, but I also found little suggestions that I could share with them to help them know what they could do to improve. I wrote quite a lot of notes on their papers both during and after the debate.
I judged a second round with similar results. I found I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.
Eventually, I had a break and went to the judges’ lounge. The debate team parents of that school provided some taco salads for the judges. I started to fill a plate, and the lady that was serving asked how the judging was going.
“This is my first time,” I said. “I think it’s going OK, but I have nothing to compare against.”
“Well, I’ve judged a lot of these,” she said, “and I’ve seen worse, but not too much worse.”
Since I was the last person in line, she quit serving and filled a plate of food for herself. She came over to the table I was at, and three other ladies joined us as well. The first lady continued to talk about how bad the debaters were.
“In the judging I have done,” she said, “I have seldom seen such poor performances.”
“Well,” another lady said, “you’ve got to realize that for some of these kids, it’s the first time they have ever tried this.”
No matter how much others tried to turn the conversation to a positive tone, the first lady kept sharing her negative comments. Suddenly, I bit into something that was really chewy. I tried to chew my way through it, but it didn’t get any smaller, and it hooked on my teeth. Finally, I spit it onto my fork and set it on the plate. I tried to do it inconspicuously, but the lady next to me noticed.
“What is that?” she asked.
I picked it up and carefully analyzed it. “I think it’s a rubber band,” I said. “One of the bigger kind that someone wears on their braces.”
Another lady at the table just about gagged. She swallowed a few times to keep her food down, and then set her fork down and pushed her food away.
The lady who had been so negative started to apologize. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I have no idea how that got in there.”
“It’s no big deal,” I said, and I continued eating.
“No big deal!” the lady who almost lost her meal said. “You found a rubber band like that in your food, and you say it’s no big deal? And how can you continue eating?”
Looking right at the lady who had been complaining about the debate students, I laughed and said, “I’m a scoutmaster. I’ve seen worse.”
The lady smiled an embarrassed smile and never said another word of complaint.

This story was posted on May 31, 2018.