When I walked into the NITOC for my second time, the experience wasn’t any less or more nerve-wracking than it was the first time. I wasn’t expecting much but maybe taking an outround or two in either form of debate I participated in. Needless to say, I got a little more than I could have hoped for. This is my 2nd NITOC experience and my 2nd year participating in this marvelous world of intellectual competition.
Part 1: The Regular Season Struggle.
You might be surprised to know that my partner (Caleb Jurkonis) and I, before making it to NITOC Finals, had five consecutive 3-3 records and narrowly qualified, with only 2 check marks (Check Speech Ranks… Our season had been really tough). Heading into the last tournament of the season, we seriously questioned whether or not we would be doing parli at nationals.
Throughout the season Caleb and I consistently did very well in our main events (he does TP, I do LD). Between the two of us, we had 5 tournament wins in the season…. Just not together. Potentially the most comical thing about our season as a whole was that our first time partnering, we pulled off a 5-1 record and made it to finals. We knew we weren’t failing because of a lack of skill, something was simply failing to come together, at every tournament following our grand entrance.
Part 2: How We Overcame our issues
After each failed tournament, Caleb and I would dissect our ballots, observe where we failed, then practice to make ourselves better. We determined a few things afflicted us both in the round. Time management, Contention structuring, dwelling on the last round, misplaced speaking positions, and misreading judges were chief among our in-round failures. When we realized what the problems were, we took time to do some drills. We had a coaching session or two in order to help us better understand what a judge wants, then how to fulfill those wants.
The most important element to our success, however, was perseverance. After our 5th failing tournament, we could have very easily given up on parli for the year. We could have thought “Well, we have done so badly thus far, we’ll never do well at NITOC.” Instead of letting the missteps and failures get to us, Caleb and I stuck to it, and it was the best decision we made all year.
Part 3: NITOC Preliminary Rounds
There may be rounds at regular season tournaments that you didn’t think were too difficult. You likely won’t experience that at NITOC. Having a good diet, good sleep, and a trusted team of people you feel comfortable preparing with are of paramount importance. These things will help you stay at the very top of your mental game. Prelims were a little rocky for us. We barely broke, with a 4-2 record. Making it through prelims is the first step every National Champion must take.
You’ve made it to NITOC, that means you’ve done something right. Persevere, even through the tough rounds and leave the ball on the field, as my father would say (For you non-sportsy people, that means to move on after a good or bad play, and look forward to your next).
Part 4: Advancing
Outrounds and prelims are very different. People who you don’t know begin watching your rounds. It’s no longer just your mom, the judge, your partner and your opponents. With that being said, keeping your cool is necessary. If you broke, it is because you have been excelling. Continue doing what you have done, and push forward. Even if that means you have to eliminate your significant other. (Is that a saying, because that seems oddly specific?) Nope. Not just a saying. In double octafinals, I had to debate my girlfriend and her partner. Advancing was bittersweet to be completely honest. Each time Caleb and I advanced, it seemed more and more surreal. As it became more surreal, the victory became sweeter. “Did we just make it to Octafinals?” “Did we just make it to semifinals?”
Once we made it through double-octas, our thought process was “wait is this actually happening?” Never did we expect to make it as far as we did. This made success even better.
Part 5: Finals?!
After advancing 5 times, the joy and euphoria hadn’t worn off. Caleb was across the campus in the cafeteria when I called him as announcements began. He heard over the phone that we made it, and of course he ran across campus as fast as his stocky 6’3 frame would allow.
After announcements were made, we rushed across campus to the auditorium where finals would be held. Right on our tail were our coaches and a group of friendly past NITOC Hall of Fame members, all of whom were ready to set us up with the best parli case the universe had ever seen. The resolutions were announced, and we struck first as opposition. The resolution we had picked forced us to defend eminent domain.
If you haven’t spoken or debated in front of a lot of people with stage lights brightly focused on you, nothing can really prepare you for it. The final round, by my best estimate, had nearly 500 people spectating. By this time, each round had been gaining more and more spectators. With the spotlight blindingly bright and the audience harshly (very harshly) judging, the round began.
We put up a good fight. There were a variety of things Caleb and I could have done better, but the end result was a well-rounded debate. We faced some of the best speakers we had ever encountered and it was a very enjoyable round, with a Batman quote complete with gravelly voice and overly dramatic language. In the end, it came down to an 8-1 decision against us. That might seem demoralizing, to be so close to taking the national title, then losing. Regardless of how finals had gone, Caleb and I were overjoyed.
Part 6: Reflections on the Season
Taking the 14-hour drive back home to the Middle-of-Nowhere, North Carolina allowed for plenty of time to think back to the ups and downs. I, of course, thought about what I would have done differently, and what I would have done the same. I would have taken more time out to practice and drill. I would have made a concerted effort to think about the failure less. With that being said, that doesn’t mean I regret a single thing about this season. The failure tempered us. The practicing sharpened us. The demoralizing defeats made us more humble. The struggle of the season made the victory sweeter.