Invitational meets are some of our best little tricks to prepare kids for real UIL competitions. We always try to go to at least 3 or 4 before the district meet. But what about running your own? Don't be fooled by these huge schools that run meets with hundreds (or even thousands) of kids. At one point in time, they were just starting out like you!
Running a UIL meet, be it an invitational or the real thing, can be scary. We know! But here's our best advice on making it happen. Whether you're a 6A high school with a huge UIL staff or a 1A coordinator working on your own, these tips will help you.
Follow our advice and turn your meet into great practice for your students, an amazing fundraiser for your program and an event people will want to go to year after year.
1. Plan ahead and set your date early
I normally meet with my UIL coaches during inservice in August and we get our calendars all marked for meets throughout the year. As soon as I know a date, I get it on the high school calendar and the district calendar. Because we are a small school and wear many hats in the community, we could have anything from a Little Dribblers' tournament to SAT testing here on campus on a weekend. Plan ahead to make sure you work around these things.
2. Order your Invitational materials EARLY
Check the UIL website here make sure you meet the date requirements. Remember there is a set A and a set B for invitational meets. For more clarification on these, read this UIL webpage here. This past year my invitational meet was on Saturday, February 13. We like to try to be the first B meet of the season. That way we have tests that no one has seen yet. Also, you may choose to order your materials from outside vendors. This may really be a good choice if you are at the end of set A or set B. Everyone will have seen those UIL materials by that time, and you may want to order from outside vendors in order to have new tests.
3. Use Joy of Tournaments
This is the site when it comes to UIL meets. If you already have an account, you will just need to email them and purchase your meet software for the year. If you have not used Joy of Tournaments to run a meet before, you will need to create an account. Remember that you can search and register for meets without having to pay for a meet, but when you get ready to host your own meet, you will need to pay for their service. Joy of Tournaments is relatively user-friendly, but if you get stuck, email them at their support email and they are great to answer questions and are very helpful. Once you have everything set up, they will review it and let you know when it is ready to post to the public. At that time, schools can begin to register. Even though you may not want to open it up to the public too far in advance, you will want to get it on the website with the “preparing tournament” tag on it so people can get it on their calendars.
4. Publish Your Joy of Tournaments event
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have many sign up at first. Lots of times schools will wait until the very last days before the registration deadline because kids’ schedules are so busy. Many people hold off on registering until the last minute to ensure they have students sign up. Most schools would be upset if a few dozen kids sign up, they cut a check for registration and at the last minute, only 5 kids go. Lots of entries will come in during the last couple of days. When you check for entries, also check each school’s statement. You will be surprised at how much money you are going to bring in for your program.
5. Set up a budget for your meet
This will take a couple of years of hosting a tournament to be perfect, but once you do, you will be able to predict how much money you may make for your program each year. You will need money for the following things to host a tournament:
- test materials
- trophies and medals
- hospitality room
- any outside judges or contest managers
- misc. items such as stopwatches, paper, etc. (these misc. items can probably just be found at your school).
Make a decision about what type of awards you'll be giving: team medals, individual medals, plaques or trophies. I used to do plaques for team winners and trophies for overall winners, but to keep costs down, I have gone to medals for 1st through 6th place, medals for team winners, and plaques for first and second place schools. Keep in mind that you can buy more cost-effective awards for invitational meets and save up a bit for your district awards. Team plaques are nice for the teacher to put in their room, but let’s face it—in time they become nothing more than a dust collector.
As for judges, you can hire as many or as few as you want. I generally have my individual coaches run their own events (the calculator coach runs the calculator contest, the literary criticism coach runs that meet, so on and so forth) and let teachers and coaches from all schools do the grading. While I am the prose and poetry coach at our school, I generally hire someone else to run that specific contest because I have to run the entire meet as our UIL Coordinator.
6. Have an awesome hospitality room
One of the main things that teachers, coaches, and bus drivers will remember about your meet is the hospitality room. Either hire someone to run it, or get the Drama or Academic Booster club to make it happen. Make sure you have something for everyone. You will need breakfast foods, grab-and-go items for throughout the day, a great tasting lunch, and lots of cool drinks. If you have a really great donut spot in town, you could easily bring in donuts and pigs in the blanket for breakfast. If you have some moms that can make it happen, you could add fruit, muffins, or maybe even biscuits and an assortment of jellies for the morning. Make sure to have juice, water and coffee early in the morning and keep the coffee going all day long. Also, make sure to be super nice to the custodial staff at your school. Ask them ahead of time to put out extra trash cans and leave extra trash bags for you. I always put in a work order to have at least one custodian at the school on the day of the meet to keep the bathrooms cleaned and stocked and keep trash picked up and taken out. It will make it so much easier for you at the end of the day. Always offer the custodians food and snacks throughout the day, be extra sweet to them, and they will take care of you forever.
7. Make a to-go cart
This may sound silly, but it's the best way I know how to keep up with stacks of paper, registration sheets and awards for our meet. A few days before the meet, I pull out one of my rolling carts and set it beside my desk. As I think of things I will need down at the main tab room, I put it on that cart. Items that are must haves are: signs to direct traffic, label classrooms labels, maps of the school, extra paper, pens, pencils, and your school keys for all the classrooms you'll be using. You may look like a hoarder at first, but this little cart of must-haves will be a lifesaver.
8. Be an hour ahead of everyone
Schools will begin arriving early. This means you have to get there even earlier. I like to be prepared for every contest throughout the day about an hour to 45 minutes before it will start. This may seem like overkill, but you will run into last minute changes, missing kids, lost paperwork or a judge that didn't show up. You'll be glad you have a little extra time to smooth things out.
9. Recruit your best students
The day before the meet, gather a handful of good UIL kids that you trust and have them get the school ready. These things will have to happen the day before so you are ready to go early Saturday morning: check classrooms to make sure there are enough desks for each event; make sure the tech department has set up a guest password for all computer lab events; hang signs to designate the areas where tests will be given, grading rooms, etc. I usually try to get all this done the last couple of periods of the day before the meet.
You will learn so much by doing your first meet. You will find that people from other schools are very understanding and are willing to do almost anything to help out. Either they can sympathize with you because they have been in your shoes before or they want to learn everything they can so they can run their own meet. This is a great opportunity to network with other coaches in your area, especially ones that you won't be competing with. I've made great friendships here as well as found great people to trade cuttings of UIL plays, prose and poetry pieces and little bits of advice with.
Have you run your own UIL meet before?
How did it go? Do you have some great advice for us! Comment below and tell us about it!