This week, I am coaching two teams of debaters from Shanley High School who qualified to represent North Dakota at the National Speech and Debate Association’s National Tournament in Overland Park, Kansas.
It is ironic that Overland Park would be a final stop in my debate travels before attending the upcoming 97th Lions Convention in Toronto, when Overland Park was the first stop and site of the USA/Canada Forum last September after I was endorsed by the Fargo (ND) Lions Club to seek the endorsement of MD5 to run for the position of International Director.
These Shanley debaters have been working hard throughout the season and are hopeful that they will be able to advance through the six preliminary rounds into the double-elimination competition. There are nearly 300 teams in their division and getting to the top 30% would be a real accomplishment. They will need to win 8 out of 12 ballots in order to advance to the next level of elimination. The boys are recent graduates on their way to Columbia University, and the girls are rising seniors at Shanley High School.
During our coaching sessions, my advice has been to stay focused on the big picture. In debate, it’s easy to get sidetracked by unimportant or irrelevant issues. Staying focused is easier said than done; but once you get off the track, it’s difficult to regain control of flow of arguments and pull out your position to win at the end of the round. One of the reasons for my debaters’ successes has been their growing ability to follow my advice.
In Lionism, staying focused on the big picture is equally important. Throughout my years of involvement, I have pledged to stay focused on the big picture of service. In personal, professional, and civic contexts, taking care of my family, my students, my colleagues, and my community has and will always be my top priority. This priority was affirmed this week as one of the top debaters I coach experienced a severe facial infection that threatened his ability to compete. He was determined to remain in the competition for the sake of his brother and teammate, as well as for the team. But, he was also concerned about not letting down his coach. What became immediately clear to my debater was my concern about his welfare and the importance of not jeopardizing his health. Fortunately, we were able to take appropriate steps and his condition improved.
As I write this blog, we are waiting for the results of the preliminary rounds. It’s never easy to wait. But, no matter what the results of the tournament may be, the joy of coaching and caring for my students and the mutual feelings they have for me as their coach make all of us the “real” winners in the end.
–Lion Robert Littlefield