The Ketchikan High School drama, debate and forensics team was in good spirits during a virtual meet earlier this month, even though technical issues brought new challenges during the first portion of the meet.
Ketchikan's team participated in the first meet of the season on Oct. 16 and 17, along with competitors from Sitka, Skagway, Mt. Edgecumbe, Juneau, Haines and Metlakatla.
The first day of the two-day meet was not competitive, but a chance to become familiar with the technology being used and work out any issues that arose, Kayhi DDF team coach David Mitchel told the Daily News.
Friday also was a day for "opening day activities," according to Mitchel.
They did great," Mitchel said about the Kayhi team. "They had a positive attitude throughout. And Friday night, from a technical perspective, was kind of a disaster."
The DDF team had gathered at Kayhi for the virtual meet, and each competitor was given their own classroom in which to compete in order to keep social distance and allow for masks to be taken off during the debates.
The students were using school laptops — which are equipped with content filters —and Mitchel said the problem occurred when the school's content filters blocked the video program used for the meet. The program, YAATLY, is designed for hosting debates and speech tournaments.
The team from Sitka also experienced the same issue.
As the technical department at Kayhi worked to fix the laptops to allow the software on the students' computers, Kayhi was not able to participate in the spar debates on Friday, although the students did participate in that day's training.
"I was really impressed," Mitchel said about how the students responded to the issue. "They were all very polite, no one got frustrated. And when it didn't work the first day, they laughed at me a little bit and that's OK. And they had a great time."
"But we just did our own activities instead, to get warmed up, and they (the students) made the most of it," Mitchel said. "None of the students complained, nobody seemed upset, they just went with it. And Saturday, we showed up still not knowing if we'd actually be able to compete, and luckily, we were able to log in and they figured it out and it went very smoothly on Saturday."
After the content filters were disabled to allow for Kayhi's participation during the remainder of the meet, Mitchel said the students adapted very well to the virtual format.
"You still had kids' power running out and other technical problems, but the format was really cool and you could see everybody," Mitchel described. "And rather than talk to your partner, you would just mute the program and get on your phone and discuss the topic with them during your down time via phone. And there's chat functions and other shared Google docs. We were using everything."
The meet was not "super competitive," Mitchel noted.
It also was shorter than a regular meet, with four rounds of debate instead of the usual six, and only one round of speeches.
Most teams competing also had smaller numbers this year, he noted.
Due to technical issues, every event ran over its allotted time by somewhere between a half hour and an hour.
He also said that he thought the students adapted to the virtual nature of the meet more easily than the slew of judges.
Mitchel said that he thought the students did better than was expected by the judges, who seemed to struggle with the virtual format more so than the competitors.
"It was a challenge for them, certainly," Mitchel said about the judges, pointing to issues with "mute buttons," score sheets and figuring out what rooms each judge needed to be working in.
The virtual meet was also Metlakatla's first time hosting a DDF event, Mitchel said.
The judges were volunteers from the Metlakatla community.
The Metlakatla team was coached by Chaya Pike and Owen Fulton.
"They had to invent the wheel on the first debate meet," Mitchel said. "So we kind of have a template now on how to move forward."
Mitchel said that the first time experience of a season that is likely to remain virtual was easier for long-time team members.
"I think it's easier for the experienced students because they can visualize, because they know a lot of students that they’re debating against, and it's easier to adjust if they've been in DDF before," Mitchel explained.
He said that newcomers Jaden Stern, Eddie Gomez and Liam Urquhart all performed well during their first meet.
The next virtual DDF meet is scheduled tentatively to be hosted by Juneau on Nov. 13-14.