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NEW COACH 411 with Rick Dorn: Hosting a Speech and Debate Tournament, Part 3 (Hospitality)

Updated: Oct 2, 2022

New Coach 411 is a monthly column designed to give new Speech and Debate Coaches the lowdown on the world of coaching. In column #12, Coach Rick Dorn follows up the second part of his series with thoughts about hospitality at a home Speech and Debate tournament.

New Coach 411 - Column #12

Hosting a Home Speech and Debate Tournament, Part 3 - Time to be Hospitable!

Hello everyone! I hope you are ready for another exciting year! Today, I decided to postpone some of the areas to consider when hosting to focus on an area that gets forgotten when hosting - food! Every meet should have some kind of hospitality lounge for your judges, bus drivers, parents, and coaches. I’ve been to meets where the lounge had water and nothing else, and I’ve been to meets where the lounge had really nice options for grabbing dinner or even just a snack. Guess which meet I was more interested in attending the next year!

Why on earth should we consider food for a meet? It’s simple: the quality of food can kill attendance for future meets. Coaches love a well-stocked judges’ hospitality lounge. Lounges can be placed in a regular classroom, a teachers’ lounge, the library, or my personal favorite, the Home Economics room. The judges’ lounge can get expensive so budget carefully. I have had team members/parents donate food, and I’ve had to buy supplies. Your best bet is some kind of combination. Reaching out to grocery stores, restaurants (not franchises typically), and wholesale suppliers can lead to some great donations to help you save your funds. You will need paper plates, napkins, silverware, etc. along with food and drinks. If you can manage it, home cooked treats are the favorite of coaches and judges. I always promise my volunteer judges good food. To give you an idea of what to plan for each day: if your tournament is starting Friday afternoon, then I would have snack food ready, and lunch supplies available Friday if you have teachers staying after an early release to judge for you. I made the mistake of not considering Fish Fridays this year, so consider religious holidays in your planning.

It is vital to have a good volunteer (or two or three) to run hospitality. If you have a willing parent who is nervous to judge, sometimes this makes a really good way for he/she to help out! I’ve used very responsible students for this task as well, but I have to keep checking in to make sure fellow team members aren’t taking advantage of the free food and avoiding their assigned tasks.

I’ve been extremely fortunate to even have some students volunteer to cook, so that is an option. I’ve also had adults volunteer to assist with cooking as well. I know of one school that uses the Home Economics club to provide food in exchange for a payment to the club fund. If you can afford it, this can take a weight off your shoulders.

On Friday night, you will want something for a dinner. Saturday morning you’ll want breakfast supplies (AND COFFEE!), and then some kind of lunch for Saturday afternoon. My meet is usually ending by Saturday around dinner, so we close up shop about 4 or 5 o’clock that day, but you decide if your meet will require an additional meal that night. The idea is that if you have judges staying for a block of 4 hours or more, you need to feed them! Coaches will love you for it, and you want them to think fondly of your tournament when planning their future schedules.

Snacks are great, and I’ve had baked good, cookies, popcorn, chips, etc. I also try to have some vegetarian options or gluten free options for judges/coaches with dietary restrictions. Be careful of catering. I’ve had well-meaning helpers who have set up catering with restaurants that ended up costing more than I made on the meet. For drinks, I reach out to the local soft drink manufacturer, but grocery stores are sometimes willing to help with that too. Figure out where your team’s parents work, because that is the easiest way to get an in. Cold calls can work, but have a lower chance of success.

A concession stand is really nice to have, and it can make you extra money. If the school has one for athletics, that might make it easier for you to open one. Again, be careful how much money you sink into the set up. My concession stand has the ability to order pizzas and then sell pizza by the slice. We order a few to start out with, and then replenish as needed. We typically have pizza, sodas, gatorades, nachos, popcorn, candy, and chips available. At the end of the meet, we start slashing prices or even giving away cooked leftovers to keep from throwing away a lot of food. If you are smart, make sure everything is cleaned better than before you started. If you used the activity/athletic director’s concession stand, discuss the amount you will be allowed to keep. If they say nothing, then consider doing a separate one. All you need is a table and chairs to sell basic drinks, candy, and chips. Teams get grumpy when meets don’t offer anything for sale, so I’d offer something basic for sale.

Another option that I’ve seen done is to offer meals for sale to competitors. I’ve done this before, but as budgets have shrunk, this has become less and less successful. Still, if you can put out feelers to see how many schools would be interested in purchasing meals for their students. Again, you will need a location (such as the school cafeteria or the Home Economics room), and you will need an adult to head up that operation. If you think it will work, then go for it. Schools that have the ability to buy meals for their students will be grateful to have a meal option they can send students up to pick up when they have free time. If you decide to do this, remember to include meal tickets in your registration packet for competing coaches. I strongly recommend pre-ordering to prevent over ordering.

I hope this helps in your planning this year! I’ll continue with things to consider when hosting next month!

If you have any questions or topics you would like explored, please email me at

Till next time,

Rick Dorn

Worland High School

Biography: Rick Dorn is a two diamond coach who has been teaching some kind of speech or theatre since 1992. He has been named Wyoming 3A Coach of the Year twice and has coached numerous students to national competition.


Check out the 2022 September Wyoming Speech and Debate Newsletter:


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