My Debate Partner

by Joel Young

Chapter 12

Another Chance

Many management consultants today make huge amounts of money teaching people how to achieve their own goals. They make success sound so easy: Figure out what it is you truly want; visualize your achievement of it; work backward to plan all the steps you must take to achieve your goal; then work your plan. I think this process came naturally to me as a junior in High school. Back then, I wanted to win the State debate tournament so bad; I could not only visualize it, I could taste it! I knew exactly what it would take to win, and my partner and boyfriend, David McAndrew, and I worked our asses off trying to make sure that we would win.

We left for the State debate Competition on Thursday morning at 6:00 a.m., four days before Christmas. I barely got any sleep the night before. I was just too excited. I slipped out of the house, without eating breakfast, when Mrs. Weber's station wagon pulled into the driveway. I knew I couldn't eat. I was afraid I'd throw up. Mrs. Weber asked how I'd slept and if I'd eaten. I told her the truth. She was not pleased, but she let it go.

In the car, it was just Mrs. Weber, Jim, Sara, David and me. The Junior Varsity had been eliminated at Regionals. We had asked Eric if he wanted to come along with us to State, but he turned us down. I think it was an ego thing.

We drove along the freeway, and I was more nervous than I'd ever been in my life. Everyone seemed very quiet. We were all thinking about the same thing - winning State. I was sitting in the front with Mrs. Weber. I turned around and saw Jim and Sara huddled together for support in the back seat. David was sitting in the far back seat by himself. What I wouldn't have given to crawl back there with him.

We arrived about 7:30 that morning. The competition was in the Language Arts building of the State University. There were new rules to add interest to the competition. Each team member got to question one member from the other team for two minutes following their opponent's first speech. First negative questioned first affirmative, second affirmative questioned first negative and so on until the rebuttal rounds. I was very pleased with the new rules, believing that it would showcase David's deadly analytical skills.

We were all business when we entered the reception room. We immediately checked out the competition. We had seen many of the teams before. It was torture waiting around for the first draws to be posted. I knew we would have to face Kettering if we were to win, but I prayed it would not be in the early rounds. Luck was with us. We received our assignments for the first two rounds, and we didn't draw Kettering.

I relaxed a great deal ten minutes into our first debate. It was really nothing new. I had done this a hundred times before. The question period made for an interesting addition, and I found myself having fun. David was brilliant as usual, and he pelted our opponents with his hard-hitting questions, making mince-meat of their weaker arguments. I found myself dreaming of a naked victory celebration with him that night. Maybe, I'd surprise him.

The second round brought me back to reality. Our opponents were tough, very tough. They countered every one of our attacks on their proposals. They did so calmly and coolly, engendering my respect with each key point they made. We battled speech by speech, and in the end, I had no idea if we had won or lost. I did know, however, that if we lost, it was fair and square.

We went back to the reception area about 10:30 a.m. Jim and Sara were pleased with their morning performance, and they thought things had gone well.

The top eight schools from the morning debates would proceed on to the quarterfinals. Speaker points would break any ties. Teams not making it to the quarterfinals would participate in a "Bonus Round," (referred to as the Loser's Round by the participants), or they could observe the quarterfinals. The quarterfinals were at 11:00. Then there was lunch, followed by the semifinals at 1:30. The two surviving schools from the semifinals would face each other for the State Championship in the main auditorium. This round would include two debates, as each school's affirmative and negative teams had to face their challenger. The two final debates were at 3:00 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. The awards ceremony was to take place in the same auditorium at 5:30 p.m. It made for a long day.

When the officials posted the quarter-finalists in the front of the room, there was a mad rush of people trying to squeeze in all at once. We decided to wait. We'd know soon enough anyway.

Moments later, one of our opponents from the second round came over to our table. "Congratulations," he said. "You're in the quarters."

We tried not to show our excitement too much, but we were definitely charged up. There were high fives' all around.

"D'you make it?" I asked the guy who had told us of our placement.

"I think you knocked us out of the running," he said with a dry expression. "By the way, you're up against Freeland. They're a good team, but you can take'em."

I liked this guy. I thought that if we had gone to the same school, we'd probably be good friends.

Jim and Sara were also up against Freeland in the quarterfinals. It was designed that way on purpose. Mrs. Weber collected us from our table and ushered us to our rooms.

"Focus, focus, focus," was her advice as we moved along the wide corridors to our quarterfinal rooms. She said that she wouldn't watch this round or the semifinals if we made it. "But dynamite couldn't blast me from the auditorium if you guys make it to the finals. And, by the way, you can do it. Just remember to …"

"FOCUS," the four of us shouted in unison, cutting off Mrs. Weber.

David and I had a fabulous quarterfinal round. Freeland had tried to be different by avoiding all the classic proposals that had made the rounds during the season. Unfortunately for them, they didn't seem to have very good answers to our attacks. David was in his glory. He rose to the challenge of analyzing some new ideas, knocking each one down, methodically and thoroughly. We won hands down.

Lunch, however, was another torture. I was way too keyed up to eat. Jim and Sara weren't quite sure whether or not they had defeated the Freeland negative team. We decided it was a toss-up if we'd make it to semifinals. At David's urging, I tried to eat a sandwich, but I couldn't. He, however, scarfed down three. At 1:15, they posted the results. Mrs. Weber pushed to the front of the line and read the posting. She turned around, beaming. When she had made it back to our table, she was holding up two fingers.

"Two more - and it's all yours!" she said.

"Who are we up against in the semis? I asked.

"Oh my God!" she exclaimed. "I forgot to check." She ran back to the posting and then ran back to us. If Mrs. Weber was so nervous that she forgot to check out the competition, I knew she must be on edge. I wanted to win for her. I owed her so much.

"You got East Pointe Country Day. Kettering got Reed City," she told us. The semifinalists were no surprise to us. We were the same schools who had taken first, second, third and fourth place at our first invitational back in October. I burned inside with determination not to take fourth this time.

David casually put his arm around me, sending tingles up and down my spine. I shook right there at the table, in front of everyone. I quickly moved away from his touch. "Later," I told him without thinking. "After we win."

Sara saw our exchange. She grabbed me by the arm and took me outside. "You need a quick constitutional," she said.

We walked around the building, and I wanted to tell her about David and me. I knew better, however. It wasn't that she wouldn't accept us, for I knew she would. Hell, she probably had guessed. She and Jim had almost lived with us for the last four months. But those personal feelings and discussions had to be squashed. I couldn't allow myself to be distracted. I had to focus. As we walked together, I somehow knew that Mrs. Weber had enlisted Sara's help in keeping my mind on the debate instead of other things.

The walk helped to clear my head, and we went back in. David and I headed for our room. We arrived at the same time as the Country Day team and the judge.

Country Day had volunteered to provide all of the timekeepers for the State Competition. Since most of the timekeepers had finished their duties, Country Day had a room full of spectators. Several of their girls started admiring David. They whispered, pointed at him and then giggled amongst themselves. I really couldn't blame them. He was not just handsome. He was what you'd call "drop dead gorgeous." Knowing that he was totally mine, however, I didn't feel even a twinge of jealousy.

The debate was our toughest of the day so far. Despite their incredibly outdated and pretentious name, Country Day knew their stuff. Their insipid uniforms were awful, but their performance was impressive. In fairness, I thought David and I were pretty darned good ourselves. And the question round helped us again. I managed to put the first affirmative speaker on the defensive, and she and her partner spent way too much time trying to recover one of their weaker arguments. Meanwhile, David attacked their stronger ones with evidence that was just on target. When it was over, I thought we had a decent shot at the finals.

After the debate, the County Day girl who had been admiring David the most came up directly to him. "I'd be scared to get in a parked car with you," she said coyly. "I think you'd persuade me to give you whatever you wanted."

"Please, don't be scared, Miss," he said. "You'd be perfectly safe. I already have everything I'd ever want to find in a parked car."

It took her a moment, but when she finally figured out that David had insulted her, she turned and flitted away. Before she had gone too far, she turned back toward David. "Creep!" she taunted.

"G-r-e-a-t rebuttal technique! D'you learn that in Country Day debate class?" he whipped back.

She gave a disgusted grunt and left the room with the other Country Day debutantes.

Mrs. Weber was outside the room when we came out. Having finished before us, Jim and Sara were with her. David and I nodded in a fairly confident manner, letting them know we had a good chance. Jim and Sara shrugged their shoulders in unison, and we knew they considered their round somewhat of a toss-up. Without saying a word, we all knew each other's assessments of our chances to make the finals.

Mrs. Weber herded us back to the reception area where the finalists would be announced. "If you make it," she said, "you may have only a few minutes before you're on stage in the auditorium. So start psyching yourself up now. Assume you're heading for the finals, and focus."

They didn't post the finalists. They decided to announce them from the platform. Although most of the schools had already been eliminated, the room was packed. The sense of excitement was building. Everyone was tense. One of the officials stepped up to the microphone.

"Okay, Ladies and Gentlemen, please. May I have your attention? Here's what you've been waiting for," he said. "Please join us in the auditorium in ten minutes for the last two debates of this season. We'll be deciding this year's State Champions, so don't miss it! Oh, and Coaches, if your school is in the finals, I need to see you up here immediately after this announcement. Okay. Is everybody ready? ........... I am very pleased to welcome back to the State finals, last year's champions - L-a-n-s-i-n-g K-e-t-t-e-r-i-n-g!"

The room exploded in applause, led by the tournament official at the microphone. I looked at the Kettering team. God, were they smug.

When the applause died down, I felt my stomach in my throat. I prayed silently, "Please, God! Please. We've worked so hard!"

"And," the official said, "Believe it or not, Kettering will be facing... Detroit Josy-ette. Let's welcome Josy-ette to their very first State Finals."

There was an immediate, but polite round of applause.

I couldn't believe my ears. The asshole had insulted us. Not only had he mispronounced the name of our school, what the hell did "believe it or not"' mean?

I looked at our team. It all seemed surreal. I could tell that Jim, Sara, and David were hugging and rejoicing. I could tell Mrs. Weber was angry. I flashed backed to how mad she was at David and me for oversleeping. Was that this morning, I wondered?

I felt hot in the face, and adrenaline surged through my veins.

I watched Mrs. Weber walk slowly to the platform. I think she talked to the official. I couldn't hear what they were saying because of the ringing sound in the room. Then, I felt two arms reach around me from my back.

David whispered loudly in my right ear, and his breath felt heavy on the side of my face. His words pierced through my senses. "Let's kick their Kettering asses, Lover!" My body exploded in electrical charges, and I blacked out.

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