Saturday, August 29, 2009

California leave NCFCA, creates Stoa

For those of who you are in NCFCA (the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association, the Christian homeschool alternative to the National Forensics League), many of you are aware of the recent developments with the NCFCA and their Region 2 (California).

The relationship between Region 2 and the national leadership of NCFCA (known as the Board of Directors or just "the Board") has been frayed over the last few years. This is the result of many things, such as but not limited to,

1. California is the biggest region with the most competitors and the most successful competitors at that. This results in a degree of competitive ill will. (As one competitor from a southern state once said to me at a Nationals a few years ago, "I don't like California." It's natural in any competitive league (ever been to a Giants/Dodgers game?).

2. California has probably the highest degree of exposure to college debate (the vast majority of the community colleges competing at Phi Rho Pi College Nationals are from California) which effects our debating style (more aggressive, more competitive, faster, more evidence-based for LD), which is drastically different from the rest of the nation, which tends to be slower, less aggressive, less evidence-based, more speaking based.

3. California most notably has a difference of opinion of how regions should be run. California for the longest time operated under our own system where the winners (at sometimes the runner ups, depending on how many tournaments we had) would be qualified to go to Nationals. You either had to win a tournament or be second place to qualify (this was in LD, in Team and IEs you usually had to be among the top finalists, due to the larger amount of slots). The Regionals system is where you have a number of tournaments throughout the year and anyone who breaks at those tournaments goes to a Regionals Tournament (like a mini-Nationals). Those who place at the top of that tournament go to Nationals. To us it seemed redundant and our system worked for us. Why fix it if it isn't broken? Well the Board felt that we should follow their system, which led to much butting of heads between our leadership and the Board.

4. Historically there have been controversies of sorts (which are common in debate leagues, what a shock right?) that many Californians felt strongly about and voiced their opinions about. The first that I remember happened at the Texas Nationals (where also we were discouraged from wearing shirts that said, "Region 2" despite the numerous other Regional shirts). The Board mandated that everyone must pay $12 for the meal that theyprovide. No big. However those who would not purchase the meal would not be able to see breaks (the meal is where the first round of breaks are announced). This was not relayed to families. Hundreds of family members and competitors (who would not enter without their family) were locked out of the announcements (including the family of of one of the Team Policy champions that Nationals). Then at Alabama, in the weeks leading up to Nationals an online protest was started (led by many alumni and National competitors, myself included) and discussed. Many in Region 2 felt the Board was ossified and that students and alumni didn't have enough voice. In hindsight our goals were a bit vague (though justified I feel) and it was mainly an outpouring of frusturation with the Board. It never materialized at Nationals, but did cause some feelings of ill will. Then at Alabama, breaks were announced at a Shriners Temple. Now I suggest you visit their site and make your mind up about it (some felt it was irreligious and others, such as myself, felt no real qualms about it), but it did cause many concerns with many families. Then at this last nationals, the Board decided to have nationals at Bob Jones University (see this site's post about it). The school's controversial legacy and policies (discrimination, legalism, anti-Catholicism) made many people feel very uncomfortable about it and again an online protest started (this time much more specific), led by many well respected alumni, coaches, parents, national competitors (and former national competitors and champions) and students. The Board's response was not well received (also on this site).

This is not to say that Region 2 is always right and the Board always wrong. Or that the Board harbors some sort of malicious intent towards Region 2. However the response from the Board in all instances was either very dismissive or a bit insulting (such as threatening to disqualify members of the last protest). Perhaps if they had tried a less bellicose form of persuasion (to borrow a line from Gods and Generals) maybe tensions would have been diffused by now. Maybe not.

But now the tensions have resulted in an open split. For now every California club, along with our regional staff, has left NCFCA (though some will continue to affiliate with NCFCA to go to Opens outside of California) to create a new Christian homeschool forensics league, Stoa (yeah I know I don't like the name much either). The current staff for this new organization are, Lars Jorgensen, Jeff Schubert, Scott York and Marie Stout. As the head coach of Channel Islands we are not affiliated with Stoa exclusively and do not now of any club that is not.

This is Mr. Jorgensen's letter to the Region:

Letter to California Affiliates

Dear Friends,

Since 2004 I have enjoyed being your regional coordinator. Brita and Danielle entered debate in 1998 (there were no IE’s then). At the same time we bought a new minivan. Eleven years and 275,000 miles later our youngest has graduated and our role will be less visible. Life keeps moving.

For the past couple of years Scott York has been assisting me, and last year we expanded the leadership to include Jeff Schubert, Marie Stout, and Elise Pope. Although I will stay involved for one more year to assist this team during the transition my role will be in conference calls, meetings, and writing letters rather than handing out trophies and helping organize the season. I am excited about these leaders and the new ideas they bring.

Over the past several years the NCFCA has moved toward creating more uniformity in tournaments across the nation. The regional model is part of that move, as is the concept that each qualifying tournament should be run by national staff. California has been moving in the opposite direction by delegating more responsibility down to the tournament directors so that more leaders can be trained.

The key issue is a difference in governance philosophy. It is an old debate (a strong central government versus states’ rights). Is it more important to have uniform tournaments across the country in the interest of fairness, or is it more important to build leadership depth to be able to handle an expanding league? This philosophical difference has led to significant frustration for many on both sides of the question. We were unable to find resolution in time for the 2009-2010 season. Many have asked that we break off to form a new league. It may come to that, but such a split is liable to be permanent. It is much more difficult to merge two organizations than to avoid a split. Since we have not exhausted all possibilities for resolving our differences, we decided the most prudent course would be to take a one-year sabbatical. California will do this in the 2009-2010 season by running all tournaments under the newly formed 501(c)3 organization, known as “Stoa.” This would make it easier to re-enter NCFCA if a mutually acceptable agreement can be reached, and it would also allow a transition time for us if such resolution cannot be found. For me, the priority is to keep California together.

Most students do not compete outside of the state and it is important to keep a ‘critical mass’ as this leads to better competition, which in turn offers better education for our students. So, my plea is to stick together during this sabbatical from NCFCA and stick together when deciding whether to re-enter NCFCA or start a new league. The tournaments will be very familiar to you all. Some families may opt to affiliate with the NCFCA in addition to joining Stoa since this would enable them to compete at national open tournaments. I should emphasize it is fine to participate in the opens; this is not a boycott. We’ll see where the Lord leads next year.

While we may disagree with NCFCA leadership on governance issues it is important to remember that we are all working toward the same goals. Let us be thankful for the time and effort they invest in the league and be careful in our conversation.

“Let your speech at all times be gracious, pleasant and winsome, seasoned as it were with salt, … “ Colossians 4:6


Lars Jorgensen