Founder’s Message

My Wake-Up Call

It was round 6 of the 2013 Tournament of Champions, and I was out of the running. I had lost too many prelims to break to out-rounds, so the only thing riding on the next encounter was my dignity. Thanks to power-matching, I knew my opponent had a similar record, so I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t know his name: Jack Ave, from Okoboji, Iowa.
The resolution weighed rehabilitation versus retribution in criminal justice, and I had come armed with arguments about ethics and policy, but Jack had another idea. He was running a “narrative” case. Instead of discussing the ins and outs of the declared topic, he would divert the round to a personal story, in this case, his difficulties getting to the TOC. It’s fair to say it was my least favorite kind of debate, so I heard this with dismay.
To get to TOC, I had had all the benefits of a year immersed in the activity with my large high school team and its multiple Lincoln-Douglas coaches. With exceptions for junior-year schoolwork, I focused on little besides preparing and learning cases, managing fatigue and tournament travel, and at the nearly 10 tournaments I attended, trying to win enough rounds to earn two “bids” that would “qualify” me to TOC, the famous season-capping tournament held annually by the University of Kentucky.
For Jack, though, getting to TOC meant far more, as his narrative revealed. He worked an extra job to put away money for debate (and therefore not college). He had no regular coaches and instead learned strategy by watching demonstration videos on the web and reading on his own. As he spelled all this out in the round, I was so moved by his story that I forgot to debate. Instead of the speech I’d prepared to run, I spent my argument time discussing ways the community should help hardworking, talented kids like Jack.
At one point in the round I even vowed “I will do these things no matter if I win the round or not!” And that was when I lost the round. The judge, a former debater named Honda Wang, disclosed after the round that he’d had no choice but to “drop” me. My promise made the ballot unnecessary, he explained. But he liked our discussion enough to give both Jack and me highest possible speaker points, a rare accolade.
Now I had 30 speaker points and a promise to keep, and that’s why Access Debate was formed. I later discovered that Honda himself had received financial assistance (from the Voices Organization) to attend summer debate institute. I hope Access Debate will enable adequate prep time, travel budgets, and coaching for a few “Jacks and Hondas” every year to add their voices to the national circuit.
That’s for them. For me and anyone else who loves this activity, I just want to be sure we get to hear them.