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Sasha K. Lotnikee

United States

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Welcome to the Fears of Parliamentary Debate

May 17, 2014

PROMPT: Team Machine

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My knuckles whiten as I walk through the hallway of a strange school. I clutch several sheets of colored paper while my head is throbbing from fear. You might think this is my very first day at a new school, but you are wrong. It's worse than arriving at a different school. It was the my first menacing debate tournament. My comforting fellow debaters tried to assure me that I would be fine, but I wasn't. What if I stuttered? What if I couldn't come up with any refutations? What if I couldn't handle the heckles*? And even worse, what if I fainted? These "if's" echoed in my head as my two other teammates came to the cold classroom.

The classroom is humongous, and student work is hung up on the whiteboard and wall. Falsely cheerful posters adorn the opposite wall. My three opponents are already waiting for us there, looking like lions ready to feast on their prey. They each have a pen in hand and a paper in another. The judge adjusts his glasses, and said we would begin. With painful shock, I realize I was the first speaker. I slowly rise up to the podium, my bones frozen with cold blood. With wobbly words, I begin my speech. As I start my first argument, I just remember I skipped the opening quote. For that squeamish moment, I freeze, and stare at the sheet of paper, my cheeks flame with tomato-red hues. I start again, breathing out, and avoid eye contact with the other team. Slowly, I finish my speech, and everybody bang their knuckles on the table.** I heave a sigh, as my teammate pats my back and gives me pointers on how to speak better next time. After all the speakers go, the judge announces.

" The proposition team wins." I breath out with satisfaction. My team has won. I close my eyes and feel the pleasure of victory. But the annoying voice at the back of my head says, "you have three more debates to go". With those words, my hopes are dashed away.

My first debate tournament forced me to look at reality. Our school debate team was crushed completely during the tournament, each team only winning 2 out of the four debates. I remembered the looks of my fellow debaters when we all knew no medal would be earned. They weren't looks of accusation. They weren't looks of envy. They weren't looks of self-pity. They were looks of perseverance, hope, and faith. How I admired them. I felt like I would burst in tears any moment, that I would quit debate as soon as I could. But no, that little voice at the back of my head said I would stay. And stay I did. My coach and teammates could approach this failure with a growth mindset, and so could I. I couldn't give up.

The looming date of the next debate neared. Even after surviving the struggles of debate, knots still filled my stomach. And worse yet, none of my teammates had written up their debate cases. As an absolute punctual perfectionist, I was petrified. How could we be prepared? How could we ever win a single debate? Why were my fellow debaters so lazy all of a sudden? Even my debate coach, a renowned nationwide high school debate coach, seemed laid back. He acted like the debate was a year away, when it really was only four days away. Unhealthy, mean, thoughts piled up quickly in my heart. People weren't trying enough! Meanwhile, I was juggling four other cases along with my own (I had decided to take the responsibility with others), a rigorous academic schedule, competitive swimming, and my piano studies, along with other weekly activities I was expected to attend. It was a battle between ambition and perfection. If I continued with debate, I wouldn't be studying for tests and exams long enough, and I wouldn't be achieving the regular A+'s anymore. I wouldn't do as well on my upcoming piano competition, and the lack of enough sleep would make me more tired when I swam. Despite my conscience, ambition won. And I completed the many other cases.

The night before the tournament, we were emailing each other frantically about research and the compiling of cases. Sweat rolled down my forehead as I quickly typed the cases: building up each argument, editing, revising, sending it to others for feedback, and finally creating the last copy to print out. My body was full of exhaustion, and my guilty conscience reminded me that I hadn't practised my piano or done my other homework. I didn't care. I zipped up my backpack and kept my hopes up for tomorrow.

Fear and pure excitement coursed through me as I walked toward the building in which the myriad of debates would be take place. I held the huge stack of papers that I had typed up firmly in my hand. I distributed each case to my teammates, and they gratefully flashed a smile to me. That still wasn't a good enough apology. I needed confessions of how lazy they were, and how they were sorry. Now that I look back, I see how selfish I was. A team is like a set of gears. They work together with coordination, but if one of the gears become broken, or they give up, the others can't work anymore. And to keep my teammates going, I need perseverance. I know that will be what I need, not apologies and confessions.

All the work was paid off. My team won all four rounds, and we came in fourth place, while another teammate got the highest speaker award of the many students in the room. Our school shown with pride. I was so happy. Camaraderie is the feeling that I miss the most. Working like a set of gears, performing astounding feats, because we are all given the ability to persevere.

"Hard work beats talent, when talent fails to work hard."


  • A heckle is attacking the opposing speaker with 2-3 word comments, like "source", "reliability", or "shame". ** The debate version of clapping.

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  • May 17, 2014 - 5:37pm (Now Viewing)

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