In the words of Rowland Hall debate coach Mike Shackelford, debate finds a way.
COVID-19 led school campuses across the country to shutter about a month before the April 17–20 Tournament of Champions (TOC), debate’s most prestigious national competition. But like so many annual events, TOC went virtual for the first time, pitting the country’s best young debaters against each other—Zoom style.
Seniors Steven Doctorman and Adrian Gushin (pictured above) finished 14th nationally in policy debate—a praiseworthy end to their careers considering it’s a feat to even qualify for the TOC. Adrian was also recognized as the tournament's 10th-best speaker—a special accomplishment for the senior, his coach said. Watch their final round below.
Steven and Adrian were naturally disappointed when the in-person TOC was cancelled, Mike explained, but they weren’t intimidated by the ensuing challenges. The duo was fortunate enough to have the time and resources to upgrade their technology, research new arguments, and practice online debate for weeks leading up to the TOC.
Trying to convince a judge or channel ethos was a difficult task over Zoom... It was fantastic to lead the charge for innovating new forms of argumentation.—Senior Steven Doctorman
“Online debate is twice as draining because it's still the same intensity, but with far more screen time,” Mike said, summarizing his team’s sentiments.
Plus, debate is an inherently social activity, Steven explained, from “sneaking conversations in the hallway” to the competition itself. “Trying to convince a judge or channel ethos was a difficult task over Zoom because we weren’t physically in the room with them,” he said. Still, online debate may be a larger feature for future tournaments—Mike suspects the TOC will be a model for fall competitions—“so it was fantastic to lead the charge for innovating new forms of argumentation or strategies,” Steven said.
The duo’s adaptability and hard work paid off with a top-15 finish, which is approximately where they've ranked all year, Mike said. “They lost on a 2–1 decision in their last round, so it was a nail-biter the whole time, but they are in a good space in how they finished their careers. Some inspirational moments, some frustrating times, countless academic arguments...In the end it was a ‘regular’ debate tournament!”
Steven echoed his coach’s positivity. “The TOC, whether online or in person, serves as the culmination of four years of dedication and hard work, so it’s fantastic to see our hard work finally pay off,” the senior said. “Our final debate was one of the best of my career and was ultimately a satisfying end despite the loss. We couldn’t have done it without Mikee’s fantastic coaching and consistent support from our team throughout the season.”
Going digital didn’t dull Winged Lion team spirit: throughout the TOC, several teammates encouraged Steven and Adrian by watching their rounds and giving them feedback, Mike added. “It was a rallying point for the program.”
Indeed, going digital didn’t dull team spirit: throughout the TOC, several teammates encouraged Steven and Adrian by watching their rounds and giving them feedback, Mike added. “It was a rallying point for the program.”
Pre-TOC triumphs also contributed to yet another successful debate season. For one, juniors Sophie Dau and Auden Bown took home the state title in policy debate for the 3A classification, the only group to finish their state tournament prior to COVID-19 closures. And at the national qualifying tournament, senior Zoey Sheinberg and sophomore Emery Bahna qualified in public forum debate, and sophomores Samantha Lehman and George Drakos qualified in policy debate. Plus, earlier this year, the already decorated Mike won Speech Educator of the Year for Utah.
The 3A state tournament, the national qualifying tournament, and the TOC represent the trifecta of the postseason, according to Mike. “It was incredible to have consistent excellence from different students,” the proud coach said. Whether fall competitions happen in person or online, we know that excellence will endure under the expert guidance of coach Mikee.