My Debate Partner

by Joel Young

Chapter 13

Taking A Risk

It never seems to fail. Whenever you become too impressed with yourself, or you get too caught up in winning, something happens to remind you that you're only human. For me, I was reminded of my humanity when the judges announced that my team had made it to the final round of the State debate championships during my junior year of High school. In front of an entire room full of debaters from around the State, I fainted.

When I started to regain consciousness, I was aware that there was a small crowd of people around me. I was on the floor, propped up against our coach, Mrs. Weber. She had her arm around me. I heard her say I would be fine. I think she was telling everyone to go to the auditorium.

A few minutes later, I was able to sit up by myself. There was no one in the room except me, Mrs. Weber and David. I held my head in my hands and took deep breaths to try to stop the tiny little explosions of light in my field of vision. Mrs. Weber told me to put my head down into my lap, and that helped.

When I finally picked my head up, I saw David's face. It was the most beautiful sight I'd ever seen. Despite an alarmed facial expression, his crystal blue eyes were shining brightly. His golden, silky hair was hanging slightly over his forehead, and his chiseled, classic features were accentuated by a stream of sunlight coming from the high windows on the far wall.

"Help me up, David, please," I asked.

I heard him ask if it was okay, and then I felt his strong arms around me as he lifted me to my feet. I melted into his strength. He held me tightly. He told me he loved me and asked if I was going be okay.

"I'll be okay," I said. "Just don't let go."

Mrs. Weber told him to help me into a chair, and he did. She handed me an unwrapped candy bar and told me to eat it slowly. I took a bite. The sweetness was overpowering.

"What about the finals," I asked.

"Oh, you're in the finals," she said. "You've got just under an hour to pull it together."

She explained that after I passed out, Kettering's coach had suggested replacing us in the finals with the third place team. The officials had wanted to call an ambulance. Mrs. Weber said she knew I had probably just fainted from the excitement, lack of sleep and not eating. When the officials were insistent, however, she had told them that I was diabetic and the excitement of the tournament had lowered my blood sugar. She told them that all I needed was something to eat, and I'd be fine.

"I'm not diabetic!" I complained.

"Shut up," she said. "Would you rather I told them that your boyfriend made you swoon? Now, eat your candy!"

Well, that certainly cut off anything else I had to say. I took another bite of candy.

She told me that Jim and Sara had already started the first debate of the finals. They were in the auditorium now, debating Kettering's negative team. David and I had to go on ten minutes after their debate ended.

"Or," she said, "We can forfeit."

I was starting to feel better. "Hell, no! But I'll need a sandwich and some milk ... and coffee," I said. "I can't stomach any more candy."

"Coming up," David replied. He left to fill my order.

Mrs. Weber and I were alone in the room. I told her I'd be fine, and she could go watch Jim and Sara in the auditorium. She refused.

"Joel," she said. "I know how much this tournament means to you. And you know it means every bit as much to me. I'm staying right here with you. Not just because it's my job, but it's where I can do the most good. Without you, this team will not win. Jim and Sara are outstanding debaters, and David has brilliant moments. But you're the glue, the backbone, and the strength of this team. Of course, I'm going to chew your ass for not sleeping or eating, but we'll take care of that another time."

I took a deep breath. "You know about David and me?"

"Yes, Joel," she said. "I know you two are in love. I don't have a problem with it. If you want to talk about it, I'll be there for you. But, I truly think that now is not the time or place."

"Just one more question," I said. "And then I'll drop it. Who else knows?"

"To my knowledge," she answered, "just Sara. She thinks it's great, so don't worry. And, she hasn't told Jim. Now, we need to bring your focus back to the debate. How are you feeling?"

I was starting to feel like my old self. David arrived with a ham and cheese sandwich from a vending machine. He also had coffee, but no milk. I ate and drank, despite having absolutely no appetite. When I was done, the three of us walked around the outside of the building to be sure I was okay on my feet. The food, fresh air, and exercise worked.

"Okay," I said. We had about fifteen minutes before David and I were on. "I can do this."

It was obvious that Jim and Sara's debate had just finished when we entered the building again. There was a buzz from the auditorium, and people were stepping into the hallway and lingering.

"Let's find out how they did," Mrs. Weber said.

We found Jim and Sara as they were coming down the steps on the side of the stage into the auditorium. They looked upset, but they immediately asked about me. When they were assured I had made a full recovery, they explained what had happened.

Things had gone well until the last speech before the rebuttals. Then, the Kettering's negative team pulled the same stuff on them that the Kettering affirmative team had pulled with David and me in October. They'd produced a surprising piece of evidence, and it had made Jim look foolish. Then, they attacked him personally - carefully worded to stay within the rules, of course. Jim had maintained his cool and fought back, but judging by the reaction of the audience, Kettering had won.

I realized at that moment that our hope for victory was slipping out of our hands. Even if David and I won, it would be a win/lose draw, and the decision would be based on speaker points. As the judges obviously favored Kettering, even before we opened our mouths, it would be difficult to defeat Kettering on a subjective point system. I started to think that just placing in the State finals wasn't that bad. After all, as long as I debated and we didn't forfeit, we were guaranteed a 2nd place.

I noticed Mrs. Weber working the room. She came back to us a few minutes later. "Jim and Sara, great job!" she said. The other coaches I spoke to said you held your own. They were very complimentary. Kettering may or may not have won, but in any case, you did yourselves, and your school proud." She hugged each one of them.

"Okay, Joel and David," she said, "Time to mount the stage."

The audience started coming back to their seats, and the same asshole official called for the final debate to begin.

I was amazed when the first affirmative speaker, the same slick Sean, presented his case. His presentation was identical - point by point identical - to his opening speech at the October invitational. Of course, the presentation was a bit more polished, and there was a piece of new evidence here and there, but not one new idea. As first negative, I could have prepared my response to Sean's speech weeks ago. Fortunately, I had gone over the October debate with Kettering at least 50 times in my mind, and I was prepared.

If I do say so myself, I nailed my questioning of Sean. And my first speech was going very well. I was on! I raised only four criticisms, but I had hard evidence to back them up, and I drove my points home. I started feeling bold. I had already decided that our chances for a 1st place were remote at best, so I decided to take some risks and have some fun. Second place was wrapped up, and I'd already been promised an ass chewing, so what did I have to lose?

From somewhere in the far recesses of my mind, I heard my own voice saying, "Draw out their New Paradigms quotation." Jim, Sara and Mrs. Weber all knew about that quotation and they'd surely think my mind was going fuzzy again if I deliberately went down a known problematic path. But, hey, what the Hell?

I decided to take the risk. The only problem was, I needed the quotation from the former Director of US Treasury to draw out their New Paradigms quotation, and I hadn't brought the card to the podium. I sent David a message, using prearranged cues.

"Now that I have demonstrated to you," I said, "that the claimed advantages of the affirmative team's proposals are based on faulty assumptions, let me discuss the potential economic impact of their short-sighted plans. First, I will turn to noted economic analyst Marshall McConnell to shed some light on the burden already carried by US taxpayers to fund such programs. Next, I will share with you a prophetic quotation by a former Director of the US Department of Treasury that clearly explains the disastrous effect that further deficit spending will have on this country."

Whenever one of us previewed upcoming evidence in this manner, it was a call to our partner for help. We would always start by reviewing the evidence we had. If we said, next I will share,' it meant "Help! Get me the card I need!"

I began reading the McConnell quotation, trying to see if David was getting me what I really wanted. I caught a glimpse of his face. He was staring at me in disbelief. I needed that card. And I was running out of time.

When I finished reading the McConnell quotation, I held the card up in my left hand for dramatic effect, while I paraphrased what McConnell had said and stalled by elaborating on his points. I held my right hand out toward David, making it clear I expected him to hand me the card. It was the only way I could communicate GIVE ME THE DAMN DEAD TREASURY GUY QUOTE!!'

To my relief, I felt an index card being slipped in my hand. After a glance, I confirmed that David had given me the right card. I read the quotation, summarized my points quickly, and my time was expired. I stood there waiting for Brandon, the second affirmative speaker, to question me.

I knew Kettering had taken the bait when Brandon asked seemingly innocuous questions that almost begged me to emphasize the economic expertise of the former Treasury Director. I played dumb and laid it on thick.

When the questioning was done, I sat down, and Brandon took the podium. He wisely reviewed the affirmative team's proposals quickly and expanded on their noble purposes. Next, he discussed my criticisms, methodically providing evidence that disagreed with my quoted sources. And then, he used the New Paradigms quotation, turning my own expert against me. Sure enough, the same former Director of the US Treasury was quoted as expressing deep regret for his role is squashing needed social programs to save a measly few dollars. For some reason, however, Brandon did not attempt to attack me personally, as he had David in October.

I found it odd that Brandon hadn't attacked me. It also seemed odd that he never gave the date of the New Paradigms Newsletter he referenced. A basic rule of evidence requires providing both the name and date of any publication quoted. Yet Brandon had only given the name.

Brandon was finishing his Speech, and David was to question him when he was done. I wrote David a note, asking him to verify the New Paradigms publication and request a date. I also told him to let me handle our response to the New Paradigms quotation in my rebuttal. He read the note and nodded in agreement.

During questioning, Brandon eagerly confirmed The New Paradigms Newsletter as the source, and he tried to waste David's questioning time by adding in a lot of unrequested mush about what a respected publication it was. David wisely cut him off and asked for the date the article appeared.

Brandon hesitated briefly, and said, "I don't recall the exact date. I'd have to check my evidence files to be sure."

"Well, I think you are required to identify the date of the publication," David replied, "so please, check your files and answer the question."

Brandon went to his file and came back with another card. "The article appeared in the July Newsletter last year," he said. David then moved on to other questions. When the two minutes were up, Brandon sat down, and David began his speech at the podium.

I must admit that I didn't pay much attention to David's speech, although I could tell he was doing well - confident and articulate as usual. The New Paradigms situation was bothering me. I knew something wasn't right. There was something telling me Brandon had screwed up, and that I had been given an opportunity, but I couldn't quite bring it into my awareness.

I pretended to concentrate on some piece of evidence on the table, but really, I closed my eyes and tried to ignore everything going on around me. That was difficult. After all, I was actually in the State finals, the auditorium was packed, and I had recently embarrassed myself totally by fainting in front of the entire group. I blocked those thoughts from my mind. I forced myself to focus.

I reviewed all of the events surrounding the New Paradigms quotation from the beginning. First, Kettering using it against us in October, then devising a plan while my father and I ran, then writing to the Edi... GOT IT!!!!!! It hit me like a bolt of lightning. I knew what I needed to attack their evidence, and I had it!

I searched for the letter I had received from the Editor of the New Paradigms Newsletter. I remembered stashing it in my file in case I decided to share it with David. I had not told him about it, however. The letter was just where I remembered putting it. I read it over, confirmed my memory of its contents, and planned how I would present my attack. As Brandon had not used the quotation as an opportunity for personal attack, I decided to avoid theatrics, well most theatrics at least. I told myself just to make the point - hard - leave it, and go on. No, I thought. Save it as the final point in your rebuttal.

I waited my turn. David finished and did a fine job of giving up no ground while Sean questioned him. Then, Sean gave the first rebuttal speech. I have to admit he did a good job; not devastating to us, but he was a slick debater. Then, it was time for me to give my rebuttal.

I chose from among our arguments those that seemed to withstand Kettering's attacks best, and I reviewed them, pointing out the weaknesses of Kettering's rebuttal. I attacked the overstated benefits of their proposals once again. I attacked the fundamental premises on which Kettering's proposals were based. And then, I attacked the economic issue.

"The affirmative team," I said, "has failed to answer the legitimate questions we have raised regarding the funding of their ill-advised proposals. Let's review the evidence presented by both sides in today's debate. Other than perpetuating the tax and spend philosophies of many of today's short-sighted politicians, our competitors have offered no creative ways to fund the ideas they wish to impose on the American public. My partner and I, however, have provided several direct quotations from noted economists who properly warn us about the devastating impact that uncontrolled deficit spending will certainly have on future generations of Americans. The keen observations and sage advice provided the former Director of the US Treasury is a primary example of the evidence we have provided."

"But let us consider the affirmative team's response. First, they have agreed with us that this noted public servant was an expert in the field of US economics. But, they would have you believe that following his long and distinguished career, dedicated to building a sound economic base that could support a bright future for our country; he woke up one day and said, oops! I was wrong all those years. What we need to do is to go deeper into debt so we can spend more money today.' The affirmative team tries to support this quotation using an obscure publication called the New Paradigms Newsletter. They tell you that in this Newsletter, in some unidentified volume, the former Director of the US Treasury supposedly recants his miserly ways from his own deathbed. And please note that it was only under direct questioning by my partner that the affirmative team offered you the date that their remarkable discovery appeared in print. And let me remind you of this important date: July of last year."

I was keyed up, and I had allowed my voice to take on an emotional edge. Now, I deliberately I slowed down and lowered my volume. "Ladies and gentleman," I continued, "I will be completely candid with you. When I first heard the Affirmative team use this quotation back in October of this year, I was perplexed. Frankly, I couldn't believe my ears. And, following some very wise guidance I received, I decided I should read the full article from which Kettering's quotation is taken. But, you know what, I couldn't find it. No public libraries in the State have it. No university libraries in the State have it. And no other periodical, including all those indexed by the U.S. Library of Congress, seems to have picked up on this amazing story."

"So, I wrote to the editor of the New Paradigms Newsletter, and I received back correspondence dated the 16th of this month and written on their letterhead. I will read to you from that correspondence:

Dear Mr. Young,

Thank you for your expression of interest in the New Paradigms Newsletter. We would be most happy to add you to our list of subscribers.

We write our Newsletter for a very limited audience of the most forward-thinking economic philosophers in North America today. We publish only four times a year: February and March; October and November. Please remit our annual subscription fee of $185.00 in US currency if you wish to begin receiving our publication.

Very Truly Yours,

Edward Fayheid Smith

Editor and Publisher

"They only publish ... in February and March; ... October and November. Not January. Not April, not May, not June. And not in July - even though the Affirmative team tells you they quote from the July issue.

"I will leave you to draw your own conclusions." My rebuttal time was up, and I sat down.

I heard the audience start to react. People were having hushed conversations throughout the auditorium. I wasn't sure what they were saying, but I had gotten their attention.

I looked into the audience where Jim, Sara and Mrs. Weber were sitting. Jim's fist was halfway in the air, and it was obvious he thought I had delivered a killer punch. Sara was staring at me with an astounded look as if to say "Why didn't you tell us you had that?" Mrs. Weber sat quietly, with a Cheshire cat look on her face.

I finally turned to David. He smiled broadly, winked at me, and whispered, "Way to go, Tiger!"

The remaining rebuttal speeches flew by. Brandon tried to recover by saying that he had misread the date of the quotation. He said that July was actually the date that he and Sean had found the quotation, and he had misspoken himself in the questioning round. He said the quotation was really from the February issue. His defensive tone and his less than a polished presentation of his rebuttal argument did not engender credibility.

David's rebuttal speech, the last of the debate, was perfect. He concentrated on the major issues only, reminding the judges of our strongest arguments, and pointing out Kettering's weakest proposals. His only reference to the New Paradigms quotation was in his last words to the audience.

"And I think it is obvious," he said, "that the credibility of our opponent's evidence related to the opinions of the former Director of the US Treasury has been fully addressed in my partner's rebuttal speech."

The debate was finally over. Jim, Sara and Mrs. Weber made their way to us through the crowded auditorium. There were hugs and congratulations, even though the winner would not be announced for twenty minutes.

I let myself hug David in public. We kept it as platonic as possible, but it felt wonderful to feel his closeness.

"You were fantastic!!!!" he told me. "Why didn't you tell me about the letter," he asked.

I told him the truth. "I forgot," I said.

Even though we all thought David and I had taken the round, we concluded that Kettering would take first place. Jim and Sara thought that they had lost. No one, including Mrs. Weber, thought that the judges would take the title away from Kettering on speaker points. We all decided, however, that 2nd in the State was damn good and something to be very proud of. Our spirits were high as we impatiently waited for the judges to finish their work and for the officials to make the awards.

About 15 minutes later, one of the officials came and got Mrs. Weber. She left and came back shortly. "They want to see your letter from the Mr. Fayhied Smith," she said.

This situation was highly unusual. I had never even heard of a judge asking to see evidence. But I was happy to oblige. I opened my case, pulled the letter and gave it to Mrs. Weber. She left to take it to the judges.

"This is great," David declared. "They must have believed you when you called Kettering a bunch of cheaters."

"I never said that," I replied.

"You know what I mean," David said. "They're questioning Kettering, and that can't be bad for us."

"Maybe they're questioning me," I countered.

David looked annoyed and said, "Joel, the debate's over. You can stop arguing every point someone makes."

Mrs. Weber rejoined us in the auditorium, and she had no additional information. She said that she was told she could pick up the letter after the awards ceremony. Then we waited nearly twenty more minutes. It was nerve-wracking. Finally, the officials began their procession down the aisles and up to the stage. The asshole took the microphone.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," he said. We apologize for the delay in starting the awards program. As you all know, these State finals were - unique, and the judges needed to take additional time in performing their very important duties."

"With no further delay," he continued, "I will announce this year's top ranking high school debate teams. In third place, please congratulate the fine team from Reese City!" The Reese City team came forward, and the audience clapped loudly.

I was glad Reese City had come in third, obviously knocking Country Day into 4th place.

The official started to announce 2nd place. I almost stood up before he read our names.

"In second place," he said, "the great team from East Pointe Country Day! Country Day, please come forward!"

There was a dramatic pause and a few gasps in the crowd. It took the audience several seconds to begin their applause for Country Day. Everyone was wondering how this could be. They were not in the finals! How could they take 2nd? I could tell the Country Day team was thinking this same thing, for they appeared very unsure that they should go to the stage for the 2nd place trophy. But of course, they did.

David put his arm around me, and he whispered, "What the hell is happening?" I just shook my head. I was feeling weak, and I appreciated being able to lean into him.

"And now," the official said, "the moment we have all been waiting for – the moment we name this year's number one debate team in the entire State..........................Detroit Joliet!!!!!!!!!

The room erupted in applause, and I heard Mrs. Weber scream out loud. She was jumping up and down, grabbing, hugging and just going wild. So were Jim and Sara. And David and I were standing, locked in a tight embrace.

"We did it. We did it!" David yelled. "Oh my God, we did it!"

It took quite a while before our excitement ebbed enough for us to mount the stage and accept the award. We grabbed Mrs. Weber and pulled her to the stage with us. She resisted at first but then gave in.

I'll remember forever the emotional high I was on, standing on the stage, as Mrs. Weber was handed the huge trophy reading "State Champions."

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