Photos by Annakate Dilks
“Congratulations to both teams for making it to the semi-finals,” the announcer said. “The decision is three zero for the negative from Shawnee Mission East.”
To translate from debate lingo — senior policy debaters Grant Colvin and Graham Revare had finally qualified for the Tournament of Champions (TOC), the most prestigious high school debate tournament in the country according to East assistant coach Carolyn Hasset. College debaters respect it. High school debaters aspire to reach it.
But you wouldn’t find either of them high fiving or fist-bumping. Instead, they’re busy prepping arguments for their ninth debate round that weekend.
For Revare and Colvin, school would have to wait until Tuesday — this tournament was running into Monday.
This is the norm for the 2nd year duo during their eight-month debate season. Carpools to the Friday night football games are traded for cramped van rides to their next tournament, and sleeping in on Saturdays is out of the question. Though exhausting, their commitment has gotten the pair to where they are today — a part of the small pool of about a half a dozen debate teams from East that have ever qualified for the TOC.
“You go to a tournament, get very little sleep, and do like the most emotionally exhausting activity on the planet,” Revare said. “Sometimes we’ll get back Monday night or Sunday night and then are expected to finish all of your homework and then go to school the next morning.”
These grueling hours of debating started early this year, as they both spent seven weeks of their summer at the University of Michigan’s Debate Institute. Here, Revare and Colvin spent 12 hours each day researching this year’s topic (reducing foreign arms sales), compiling evidence and doing practice debate rounds. Colvin said their time at Michigan ensured they were on the same skill level as each other, allowing them to work well together during the season.
According to the debaters, the intensive program allowed the pair to reach a learning curve in their careers that made the idea of qualifying for TOC attainable.
“You reach a sort of second level understanding of debate,” Revare said. “You go from playing something or doing an activity to really being good at it.”
Gone are their novice days of learning terminology and the intricacies of policy debate. Now, they know how to be strategic — how to research more thoroughly, prepare for whatever route the debate ends up taking and use methods of judge persuasion.
Debate coach Trey Witt knew that the pair would be able to reach the level where they could achieve what they’ve been striving for — qualifying for the TOC.
In order to qualify for the TOC, a team must receive two bids, which are earned by advancing to the semi-finals or finals in a designated TOC bid tournament. Prior to this year, neither Colvin nor Revare had ever received a bid. But Witt was confident they would get at least two this year.
“Honestly, I wasn’t really surprised,” said Witt. “I knew they were going to be able to get their second bid, especially after how successful their first couple tournaments of the season were.”
As of Oct. 17, Revare and Colvin had only lost five out of 28 debate rounds and held an 82% win rate — compared to 66% last year.
Hasset credits part of their success to being friends both during their rounds and outside of debate.
“They just have a mutual understanding and respect for one another as friends, as partners, and debaters,” Hasset said. “I think the fact that they’re able to have not only a partnership but also a friendship is what makes their partnership so special.”
Another aspect Hasset says sets them apart from the rest of the crowd is their dedication to the research and preparation.
“The amount of work they put into this activity is insane,” Hasset said. They’re always doing practice speeches, practice rounds, cutting cards, producing files.”
Whether it be in the debate room, another class or in the debate van, Colvin and Revare are constantly found “cutting cards,” or collecting evidence to respond to any argument they could come across. For Colvin, sometimes this can mean getting crash courses about obscure philosophers in the back of a van while heading back to their hotel in Oklahoma City at 9 p.m. As hectic as it seems, Revare and Colvin are convinced the best cards they cut are the ones they do in unexpected places like parties, after getting out of the shower or on three hour road trips to tournaments.
“It’s just throwing around a bunch of ideas in a van as you drive through the wheatfields of Kansas,” Colvin said. “Your only source of information is an assistant coach at the front of the van and you have to yell to hear them.”
When they finally get to the tournament, it’s communication that can either advance them into the semifinals or send them home before they reach elimination rounds. Though they tend to compliment each other, they acknowledge one weakness as a team can be miscommunication.
“Debate is a communicative activity,” Revare said. “Not just between you and the judge, or you and your opponents, but between you and your partner. And that’s an aspect that can be sometimes overlooked.”
To maintain that communication and be effective as possible, they have to explicitly consult each other during rounds by continuously asking questions and typing up things for the other person say during their speech. While Colvin gives the more important speech during their affirmative rounds, Revare is tasked with negating the other team’s plan during the negative rounds.
Another important debate strategy they utilize is a little bit more unexpected — their outfits.
According to Revare, it’s common for debaters at their level to have some sort of trademark for others to associate with that team — whether that be always wearing pajamas or keeping a stuffed animal on the podium while debating.
In their case, Revare won’t be caught walking into a tournament without his signature Hawaiian floral shorts and black tie. And Colvin never forgets his Adidas Superstar sneakers.
“It puts you in your comfort zone,” Revare said. “It puts the other person off balance because they’re like, ‘why is this dude wearing a tie? And floral shorts?’”
Though they’ve attained their goal of qualifying for TOC, they don’t plan to stop cutting cards in class any time soon. Floral shorts and Adidas in all, Revare and Colvin plan on being the first team from East in recent history to travel to Lexington, KY for the TOC this April.