Theron and Teague Harrison, Manual High School's top debaters and the subjects of our recent feature, "Say What?", were in New York City this past weekend for the Urban Debate National Championship, along with Thomas Jefferson High debaters Danite Reda and Talan Lousignont. So how did Denver's debaters stack up? Read Manual coach Charlie Smith's diaries to find out! Day 1 can be found here.
I was a little nervous about getting everyone to the lobby at 7:00 a.m. this morning, when they could of slept in until 8:30 a.m. However, I was the one that was running late. Surprisingly, Theron got up extra early and took his mentor, Tarek, to breakfast. While everyone was a bit sleepy-eyed, we were extremely excited to make our way to Good Morning America. As we made our way through the early morning streets of Manhattan, I knew that this was going to be a phenomenal day.
As we rounded the corner to Times Square, billboards flashed the latest news. The advertisements crawled up at every angle, looking as if they were taking over the skyscrapers surrounding us. Already, there was a small crowd of people gathering in front of ABC studios to hold a spot for the morning show. We found an open place and spoke with the security guard. He called in to confirm that we were indeed on Robin's guest list, and that cameras would be shooting live in just a few minutes.
As Robin made her way through the throngs of people who had now amassed, she made instant eye contact with Teague and Theron and her face lit up. Being noticed by a star within a crowd of people is a special experience, indeed. Immediately, the throngs of people were now focused on our debaters. You could feel them wondering who these youngsters were that had attracted such attention from Robin. Soon the cameras were rolling, and we were prompted to give a big cheer as they panned past us. You may have caught a glimpse of our stunning crew, if you were watching this morning.
Soon after, we were whisked inside the studio by security. After riding in an elevator that Theron claimed "...is bigger than my house...", we were on the set of Good Morning America. Everyone was captivated by the whole process taking place: camera booms moving up and down, mics, lights, producers, soundmen, and Robin Roberts interviewing a guest. As they broke to a commercial, George Stephanopoulos made his way over to us and took photos with our league director, Jessica Clark. My whole crew was in awe!
Later we were brought to the "green room" and offered breakfast and coffee, while we waited for Robin to finish up the show. Teague stopped into Robin's dressing room and chatted with an attendant. I snapped a priceless photo of her standing before the bulb light-surrounded mirror. Theron realized that there was a Good Morning America pinball machine in the corner, and took to challenging our fellow Denver debater, Talan Louisgnont from Thomas Jefferson High School. I sat back and took it all in.This was truly a once in a lifetime experience.
Robin arrived a little later and spent a few minutes chatting with the debaters. The smiles on their faces were huge as they made small talk about the tournament and all of the cool things they had experienced. Her demeanor was so down-to-earth, and you could truly feel her interest and excitement for the big day that our debaters will be facing tomorrow. She even gave me her email address and asked that we keep in touch about the tournament results. After a photo op and goodbyes we were on our way.
As our debaters attended conference sessions about career planning and then had lunch with the rest of the field, you could feel a shift happening. Teague and Theron slipped out of the tourist mindset, and began to focus on the upcoming tournament. Conversations switched to affirmative plans and negative strategy. Theron seemed nervous that several teams had read the Westword article and knew who he was. Wauneta Vann, the coach from Thomas Jefferson, and I counseled them to use this to their advantage and to hold their confidence strong. Nervous chatter about new cases that they've never heard before was squelched by my commenting: "If they are bragging about having a secret case that nobody knows, remind them that this also means they have no idea what arguments you will bring against them." Surprise attacks are not wise in debate. It is truly about being the best debater, not the one with the most tricks up his/her sleeve. They relaxed a little and made their way to the college recruitment fair planned for the afternoon.
After talking with multiple colleges (NYU, Columbia, University of Wisconsin, Iona College) about future opportunities, our debaters were eager to explore more of the city. Tarek, Theron's mentor, was so kind to be our guide, and off into the city we went. The list of things to do ranged from Toys R Us, which has a Ferris wheel inside, to more cultural experiences like China Town and Little Italy. As we roamed around the city our debaters relaxed once again. However, you can feel the tension building as the big day grows closer...
DAYS 3 and 4
We hit the streets of Manhattan at 6:45 a.m. with all of our evidence in hand. Gray skies had descended upon the city with the intention to downpour at any moment. By the time we got to the subway, you could seriously feel the nervousness of our crew. They had no idea what the tournament was going to be like, but one thing was for sure: 5 rounds and 11 hours of debating. This is no small feat, especially when you are facing opponents of national caliber.
We arrived at Hunter College and began prepping for round 1. Soon, I was escorting Teague and Theron to their room, reassuring them that they knew what they were doing, and to do it well! As the day went on, our teams became more comfortable and confident. It was amazing to witness the Thomas Jefferson team and the Manual team working together. Danite Reda and Talan Lousignont worked really hard on the case that both teams used for the tournament, and they were a great support to Teague and Theron. The TJ coach, Wauneta Vann, was so awesome in how she worked with both teams in keeping morale up and confidence high. It was great to have rival teams come together to represent Denver.
Having Jessica Clark, director of the Denver Urban Debate League, there to coach our debaters on the complex strategy involved in national level debate was invaluable. One of the most difficult things about coaching debate and not having formally debated is that at some point, your debaters outpace your knowledge of the nuances of policy debate strategy. Debate is all about experience and perseverance, and Jessica, through her years of debating, was able to provide that support. We were so thankful to have her expertise.
Our teams debated against the best teams in the nation, and while they did not break to quarterfinals, they did an awesome job. Talan and Danite debated against a team from Chicago that went 5-0 during the tournament, and they totally held their own. It was a real learning experience for Theron and Teague, and has totally prepped them to be ready for nationals next year. Overall, the tournament and the entire experience was a huge success!
As we landed in Denver late last night and grabbed our luggage, we all said our goodbyes. We had become like family over the last four days, and had an experience together that none will soon forget. On our drive home, Teague, Theron and I began reflecting on the entire season. We talked about our successes, and like true debaters, we identified our gaps and began to develop a plan for next year. During our discussion, Theron left me with a thought that reminded me of why I coach debate.
Theron said, "This year was all about seeing my potential as a debater, and next year is all about fulfilling it."
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Flip the page for photos of the debaters in New York!