With the first meet of the drama, debate and forensics season slated for next month, plans are not yet finalized for how the season will proceed due to school safety modifications during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"There's more question marks than answers, despite all the meetings all summer," David Mitchel, Ketchikan High School's DDF coach, said during a Monday interview with the Daily News.
"I'm trying to figure all this out as we go along," Mitchel said.
For now, that means virtual competitions, as no guidance has been issued from the regional DDF organization.
"We're moving forward with virtual tournaments until we're all allowed to travel," Mitchel explained. "Each town is different."
The first meet of the DDF season is set for Oct. 17 against Metlakatla.
According to Mitchel, schools in Metlakatla are not permitted to host traveling schools or travel to other communities during the first quarter of the academic year.
The second meeting of the season is also scheduled as a virtual competition, against Juneau. Juneau is currently at a high risk level for the virus, and therefore, school teams can't travel. Other teams also cannot travel to Juneau due to the risk level.
Due to the digital nature of the upcoming competitions, "we may have to drop events or alter certain events," Mitchel said.
The "down time" given to participants during meets might have to increase, and some duet events also might have to change or be eliminated.
DDF tournaments focus on events such as extemporaneous speaking, duet acting, giving speeches, debating and informative speaking. These events require a combination of group performances and solo speeches, which are judged by a panel of judges during winter meets and tournaments against other schools.
Mitchel said that there were "very little" advantages to competing in a virtual arena this season.
He did say that some asynchronous or solo events, like speeches, might be easier for students. In these scenarios, a student would record themselves giving a speech, and would submit it to the judges for the event. This provides the students with more chances to get their performances just the way they want.
"If it doesn't go as they like, they can just record again and again," Mitchel explained.
However, Mitchel said this can be a drawback, too.
"Getting to meet the judges and performing and interacting with other students and having that sense of camaraderie ... it's going to be hard, and there's a lot of students right now not signing up or not joining," Mitchel said.
The virtual arena isn't the only change to the Kayhi DDF world. Instead of being counted as a class, DDF is now an extracurricular club.
As a club, "there's more time for (student participants) to take the lead on it and me to act more as an advisor and help them along the way, rather than just assign something," Mitchel said.
Mitchel said that the now-club's numbers are down this year, hovering around 15 members. Last year, Kayhi's team comprised about 30 students.
Mitchel partly attributes the dip in participation to having a large number of senior members graduate earlier this year, and other students being committed to sports. He expects that as the year progresses, more students may sign up.
Currently, the group is a "50-50" split between newcomers and seasoned members — a dynamite combination according to Mitchel.
"They're going to teach each other a lot," he said of the team. "It's a great group of students."
The team is this year captained by senior Henry Clark and junior Nicole West.
The Daily News spoke with West, a three-year DDF participant, and senior Jaden Stern, new to the team this year.
West first joined the team in her freshman year because her mother also had competed in DDF as a student.
"I figured I'd give it a try and I ended up loving it," West said.
"I just heard a lot of good things about it," Stern said of his own motivation to join. "I was always interested, but I was in football before, so I didn't really have time."
West expects this year to be different due to the team's new extracurricular nature.
"From a third-year perspective, it has changed a lot," West explained. "But it could be a good change, because maybe it's less stress, and it might be easier for people who originally didn't have time for classes now are able to take it after school."
Stern said that while he hasn't been part of a competition before, a virtual method of competing makes sense.
"I think it will be fun," he said.
West agreed, saying, "it's definitely going to be different because a bunch of the team bonding we do is through traveling to other places in Alaska, but I agree with Jaden, it's much more safer."