Think of all of the movies you know where the hard working underdog, with the sense of charm and self deprecation finishes victorious. Cue the french horns. I sorta thought I was going to get to be part of that sort of story this past weekend. I wasn't.
This story started for me four years ago when I started "coaching" the Ravenwood debate team. The phenomenal Kari Smith
The kids. Debate kids are just a different breed. That day the room was full of a handful of kids--nerdy, brilliant, crazy loud and opinionated. For that hour that day I watched them all play the game of "who is the smartest in the room." Seemed like they were all smarter than me. But just because they were smart, didn't mean they could debate. They were eager. Eager...but not good. They would get up to speak and well....let's just say that at the point if we had a trophy case we wouldn't be making any room in it. The kids ummed and uhhed. They rocked when they talked. They yelled over each other. They spoke in monotones and talked themselves in circles. But they were excited and adorable and I just loved them all instantly.
Over the following years I would have the chance to work with some amazing coaches. First of all, anyone who knows Kari Smith is in awe of her. She breathes forensics. And everything she touches is quality. Getting to have my own children coached and taught by Kari was the hugest privilege. Getting to work with her helping to get debate up and really running was a blast. In addition, I was able to work with Abby Andrews.
But meanwhile, Ravenwood debaters were getting better. Those freshmen? The ones who rocked and ummed and uhhed? They weren't freshman anymore. And that means they weren't freshmen debaters anyomore. They were making points. Winning rounds. Doing some of the best research of any of the teams in the area. And we were having so much fun. But we still weren't bringing home many trophies. And these are the kind of kids you want to win.
Did I mention fun? We have laughed and laughed and there are so many inside jokes and poems and songs and moments you just had to be there--I would tell about them but you really did have to be there. But picture this crazy smart, sarcastically funny group of kids. At one point earlier on, I looked around the room and saw only one girl in this whole group of boys and said "Guys! We have to get some girls in here." Without missing a beat, one of the debaters took a slow look around the room and said, "ummm....does it look like we can get girls?" Not that these boys minded. Last year they adopted a new slogan:
So, this is all rambling. I get that. But as I have watched these kids over the years I have become their biggest cheerleader. They all got better. And better. And better. And we went from the school with no program, to the school to beat. In fact, last year the kids chose our theme song "all we do is win" because we were winning that much. It felt good. Not gonna lie.
So fast forward to this year and my speech at the beginning of the year. Let me just be straight and say that I really, really, really wanted at least one of our teams to qualify to compete at Nationals. This year was so important to me because I had coached these kids through their freshman year to their senior year and for several of them this was their last chance and they so deserved it. My speech the first week: "Okay folks, someone in here is going to nationals. It is our year to finally send a debate team to nationals and we will work and work and then we will win! Because that is what we do!" So this year we have worked so hard. Each tournament we have brought home trophies. If you had seen us years ago, you would cheer for us. Because you would love this Cinderella story.
And then it was time for our National Qualifying Tournament. From the beginning, everything just wasn't going our way. Kids couldn't make it (This is the superbowl of debate people! Don't you want to go to the Super Bowl? AGGGHHH..the troubles of having smart kids involved in lots of things)...we had one week to learn everything you ever wanted to know about mandating health care insurance and we were all exhausted from a three day long tournament the weekend before. But if this were the movies, this would be the part where you would see that although the odds were stacked against us, we persevered and at the very last minute...A MIRACLE!!! AN INCREDIBLE MIRACLE!!! WE WON!!!
But it isn't that story. This is the story of how my best team at "our playoffs for the Super Bowl" --nat quals, how we got all the way to the very end...and lost. They lost in a a 2-1 decision, one vote away from everything they had worked for.
And it broke my heart. I have said for four years I wanted to send a team to nationals and I was convinced this was my year. It broke my heart because these kids are the heroes of the story. They deserved it. They deserved it because they are brilliant and kind and have spent years building up this team and they just are that "movie team" that you want to win. Even worse, they lost to the "Goliath" team that wins all the time, who walked in expecting to stomp our team. Blech. See, don't you wish they had lost? If not, then picture all the cocky bad guy characters in every final scene of all the movies like Rocky or Karate Kid and then you'll know why you should have wanted them to lose.
So, this isn't a Cinderella story. It is the story of genius, talented kids who will have so many opportunities ahead of them that they will never even care about that moment when they missed getting to go to nationals. Years of debate mean these kids know about health care, gun control, immigration, failed nations, climate change, mandating immunizations, poverty..and so much more. Their years of debate will serve them well into their futures filled with limitless possibilities. So I guess, it will be that kind of movie. That one defining moment was not this past weekend. But the defining moments of working with these kids for four years and how they have shaped me...well, that's the stuff movies can be made of.