Information for Judges

Thank you for your interest in volunteering as a speech and/or debate judge! We want you to know that as a judge, you are an extremely important part of our program. Getting help from judges like you is what makes the Coolidge Cup possible. Below is some information that you might find helpful.

What is Declamation?

Declamation is the act of delivering a prepared speech (usually one that was originally written by or for someone else). If you have ever recited the Gettysburg Address or a read aloud a famous speech by a president or world leader, then you have given a declamation. At the Coolidge Cup, of course, students declaim the speeches of President Calvin Coolidge.

When judging declamation, generally you are looking to see that students are delivering the text in a way that shows that they understand the material, have connected with it, and can deliver it clearly and effectively. Students should not try to mimic the original speech giver. Rather, their task is to deliver the speech in a way that is engaging and appropriate for a given audience.

What is Debate?

Debate is a competitive, structured discussion that allows for opposing arguments to be put forward. A debate focuses on a specific proposition called the resolution. Resolutions begin with the term “Resolved” and follow with a policy change, statement, or idea that is to be debated by the two parties participating in the debate. Some examples of resolutions are, “Resolved: The United States Federal Government should adopt a balanced budget amendment” and “Resolved: The United States should adopt a carbon tax.

The “affirmative” debater (or team) is arguing in favor of the resolution. The “negative” debater (or team) is arguing against the resolution. Each is trying to win the debate.

Debates have a particular order in which the debaters take turns speaking. Each speaking turn is allotted a set amount of time, for instance 5 minutes for an opening statement and 3 minutes for a closing statement. Details about the speaking times that can be found in the Coolidge Cup Debate Guide.

How the Tournament Works

For declamation, each student will declaim three different speeches from President Coolidge. Two of these declamations will be delivered privately in front of a panel of judges. One declamation will be delivered at one of our full-group assemblies (i.e., at our morning gathering, lunch, or dinner). Students will be ranked based on their scores.

For debate, the Coolidge Cup tournament has four preliminary rounds. After four preliminary rounds, the top debaters based on win-loss record and speaker points advance to the elimination bracket. From this point forward, the tournament proceeds elimination-style.

Each debater knows that over the preliminary rounds of debate (which span the first day and a half of the tournament), he or she will be assigned which side to support. Debaters generally do not choose the side they are on. We tell the debaters about 15 minutes before each round which side they will be arguing for the upcoming round. The debate format is in the 1v1 Coolidge Debate Format. To learn more about the Coolidge Debate format, read our debate guide.

Your Role as a Judge

As a declamation judge, your main role is to listen to each speech in a series of speeches and decide the rank order of the students.

As a debate judge, your main role and responsibility is to listen to each side make its case and then do three things: 1) render a decision about which team won the debate, 2) award individual speaker points, and 3) return your ballot promptly (or allow it to be collected by a staffer or volunteer).

Determining the Winner

In declamation, the winner of a round is the student who you believe did the best job of declaiming out of the set of declamations that you observed. You might observe a batch of up to 5 declamations in one sitting. You will be asked to score each one. We will use your scores to determine the rank order.

In debate, each round is a head-to-head competition. When determining the winner in debate, consider the following factors:

  • Which speaker did the best job of putting forth good arguments for his or her position?
  • Which speaker did the best job of answering his or her opponent’s arguments?
  • Did either speaker fail to address an important argument by his or her opponent?
  • Which speaker provided better evidence and research to support his or her contentions?
  • Did the speakers speak at a reasonable  and understandable pace?
  • Which speaker was more logical?
  • Did the speaker stay on topic?

At the Coolidge Foundation, we believe in the power of citizen judges to be able to follow a debate and render a reasonable decision. Taking notes while listening is appropriate and encouraged. You shouldn’t try to write everything down, but you should be able to make a few notes on each side’s key arguments and identify whether the other side did an adequate job to address them.

The most important things when judging a speech or debate are to adopt a neutral stance about the resolution, and to do your best to be fair, encouraging, and supportive to your debaters. They are here to learn from you, no matter what your experience level is!

Assigning Speaker Points

In declamation, you will score each declamation on a 30-point scale. You should look for students to speak at an appropriate volume, with good articulation, and at a reasonable rate of speed. Students should try to connect with the text and demonstrate an understanding of the material they are delivering. Other elements of style to consider include good eye contact, appropriate gesturing, and good posture. Students should not try to mimic what they think President Coolidge sounded like when he gave the speech.

In debate, in addition to choosing the winner of each debate, you will also score each debater on a 30-point scale. These are referred to as “speaker points.” Speaker points assess the quality of the presentation offered by each debater. This is entirely separate from the determination of who won the debate. Usually the side that wins the debate also receives higher speaker points. On rare occasions, you might award more speaker points to the loser of the debate if you believe that he or she generally spoke better but failed to address an important argument or committed some fatal flaw of logic.  Please consider the following factors when awarding speaker points:

  • Does the speaker present in a fluent and compelling manner?
  • Does the speaker use all available speech time and cross examination time?
  • Does the speaker properly reference opposing arguments and cite allusions to evidence?
  • Does the speaker address the opponent in an appropriate style (i.e., not demeaning)?
  • Does the speaker stay on topic?

Remember, as a citizen judge, you get the final word in determining who won and how well they did.

We Need You

Thank you again for your interest. As mentioned, without volunteers like you, we could not have a Coolidge Cup tournament. We hope that you will come and judge some speeches and/or debates. If you are available and interested, please Register to Judge. If you still have any questions about judging in the Coolidge Cup, please contact Coolidge Foundation Debate Director Jared Rhoads ( As a token of our appreciation, all volunteer judges are invited to lunch and dinner. Business attire is encouraged for judges, as the debaters will be in business attire.


Coolidge Cup Judges, Day 1 of the 2018 Coolidge Cup